Smoking Causes Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema
Quitting Smoking Reduces Heart Risk Faster Than Previously Thought
The sooner you quit smoking, the sooner your risk for heart disease declines, and according to new research, it may take as few as eight years for an ex-smoker's heart risk to reach that of a non-smoker.
By Amir Khan
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WEDNESDAY, Nov. 20, 2013 —Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your heart, and now, new research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions finds that the heart-health benefits of quitting smoking occur faster than previously thought. Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that while previous research indicated that it takes 15 years for an ex-smoker's risk of heart disease to drop to the level of a non-smoker, it may actually only take as few as eight.
The researchers looked at 13 years’ worth of data from the Cardiovascular Health Study, which began in 1989 and compared 853 people aged 65 or older who quit smoking to 2,557 people who had never smoked. They found that after a median of eight years, smokers who smoked 32 “pack years” or less were able to reduce their heart disease risk to that of a non-smoker. "Pack years" were determined by multiplying the number of packs smoked per day by the number of years they smoked.
"It's good news," study author Ali Ahmed, MD, MPH, professor of cardiovascular disease at the University of Alabama at Birmingham's School of Medicine, said in a statement. "Now there's a chance for even less of a waiting period to get a cleaner bill of cardiovascular health."
Your heart health is damaged the second you light up, said John Higgins, MD, a cardiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.
“If you light up and smoke now, the substances in the cigarette are going to increases your heart rate and blood pressure right away,” Dr. Higgins said. “And long term, you’re looking at hypertension, which, coupled with the fact that smokers often don’t work out and are overweight, adds to the negative heart effects.”
Merle Myerson, MD, director of the Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and Pre-Exercise Heart Screening Program at St. Luke's and Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, said that the findings aren’t all that surprising.
“It’s interesting to see that recovery comes sooner than we thought,” Dr. Myerson said. “It’s encouraging, but we’ve seen before that changes in the body happen very quickly when you stop smoking.”
Previous research has shown that when you quit smoking, your health starts to improve within days. After 48 hours, your ability to taste and smell improves. After 72 hours, it's easier to breathe. Your lung function improves by 10 percent after 3 months, and after a year, your risk of heart attack is half that of a non-smoker.
“These findings [in the new research] underscore what we already know, but gives doctors more power to encourage people to stop smoking” Myerson said.
It’s unclear why this study found such a vast difference in the time it takes smokers to reduce their risk of heart disease, Higgins said.
“More of the smokers might be taking statins or other medications, which could counteract some of the negative effects of smoking,” he said. “However, more research needs to be done.”
Although the ex-smokers' risk of heart disease declined quicker than previously thought, the researchers found that they retained a higher risk for diseases such as COPD and cancer.
“While you’re reducing your heart risk, you’re not reducing everything, which is an important caveat,” Higgins said. “It’s still better to never smoke than start and quit.”
"It’s important for smokers to know that if you smoke, quit and quit early,” he added.
Video: British Heart Foundation - Smoking and heart disease
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