Why so high?

“Why are our rates of heart attack and stroke so high in Chautauqua County?”

CHQ250 partners continue to hear this question almost every time we are out talking about cardiovascular disease and prevention. It’s a good question, because our heart attack and stroke rates ARE very high — among the highest in New York State.

The answer is complex, but one reason we can point to with certainty: Chautauqua County continues to have a very high rate of adults who smoke tobacco products. According to New York State Health Department data from 2013, after adjusting for age, 27.8 percent of adults in our County are current smokers, compared with 15.9 percent of adults statewide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that every day in the United States, over 400 people die from heart disease attributed to smoking. In Chautauqua County, an estimated 100 people will die from heart disease attributed to smoking this year alone.

Chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the heart and lungs, as well as the blood cells and blood vessels in the body. Blood flow is limited as plaque builds up in the arteries; add in other risk factors, and the risk of having a heart attack or stroke increases every day.

But there is good news! Quitting smoking has almost immediate benefits on the body and to those around you. Just minutes after quitting the heart rate drops to normal, within 12 hours carbon monoxide levels return to normal and after a few weeks the risk of heart attack begins to drop and lung function begins to improve. Within a few days you’ll notice that your breathing gets better, things smell and taste better, and you’re able to move more without losing your breath.

The benefits of quitting smoking continue over time, as you strengthen your muscles, bones and immune system. You also protect your family, friends, people, and even pets around you from secondhand smoke exposure. You will have more cash in your pocket and a cleaner home and car.

There are plenty of resources available to those thinking about quitting or ready to quit smoking right now. If quitting smoking cold turkey seems too hard, try gradual steps like cutting down by one cigarette per day. Start a conversation with your doctor about resources available to you like cessation classes, medications or Nicotine Replacement Therapies like the patch or gum. Quitting smoking is a very difficult journey, but it is not one that you have to take alone.

Chautauqua County has high rates of both heart attack and stroke, but an estimated 80 percent of heart attacks and strokes are preventable. CHQ250 is an initiative of the Chautauqua Health Action Team(CHAT), encouraging you to take action to be one of at least 250 strokes, heart attacks, or related deaths prevented in Chautauqua County in the coming year.

This column is written by CHAT members to share information to help you to do your part to live a life free of stroke or heart disease; it is not intended to replace advice provided by your healthcare team.

Please direct questions or comments to: activecounty@co.chautauqua.ny.us.

Editor’s note: Thursday is the American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout. Perhaps a good day for smokers to start following the above advice.