Monday, February 14, 2011

Don't Let Smoking Break Your Heart

By Maureen Deutermann, MSN, R.N.
Director of Community Education

One of the toughest, and saddest, experiences of my nursing career occurred while I was an Administrative Nursing Coordinator (ANC) right here at Sentara Potomac Hospital. A relatively young man, in his 40’s, had suffered a cardiac arrest. Despite extensive efforts on the part of the Emergency Care Center team, he did not survive. It was my unenviable task to accompany the emergency physician to inform the family. After breaking the news as gently as possible, the physician softly posed the question, "Did he smoke?" The answer was yes.

At the time I remember wondering why of all questions, the doctor asked that one. After all, this was a case of undetected heart disease, not lung cancer or emphysema. A little research on my part quickly gave me the answer: smoking increases the risk for heart disease, and for young people who smoke (under age 50) the relative risk factor is even greater than for those over 50.

All smokers should understand exactly how they are assaulting their hearts every time they light up. Smoking increases blood pressure, decreases HDL (“good” cholesterol), decreases exercise tolerance and increases chance of blood clots. Continuing to smoke after heart surgery increases the risk of recurring heart disease. Women who smoke and use oral contraceptives greatly increase their risk of heart disease and stroke compared to their non-smoking counterparts. A smoker with a family history of heart disease greatly increases his/her risk to follow in their family’s footsteps.

Cigarette smoking is so prevalent (1 out of 5 Americans smoke) and significant a risk factor that the Surgeon General has declared it “the leading preventable cause of disease and deaths in the United States.” If you are a smoker there is no time more perfect than February, American Heart Month, to put down cigarettes for good.

Online resources abound: check out the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society or American Lung Association’s website for assistance.

Need face to face support? Sentara Potomac Hospital offers a Nicotine Anonymous Support Group every Wednesday evening from 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. in the Hylton Education Center. Please, don’t let cigarettes break your heart!