Smokers who quit are able to reduce their risk of heart attack and death to the levels of people who never picked up the habit, new research suggests.
The international study — presented to a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Amsterdam this week by a team of American scientists — is the latest to highlight the benefits of smoking cessation at virtually any age.
"Smoking is an established risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Studies have identified that quitting smoking can reduce heart attacks and death but have not examined the relationship of this salutary effect on the presence and severity of coronary artery disease [CAD]," said lead researchers James K. Min, M.D., and Rine Nakanishi, M.D. "Our study aimed to find out what impact stopping smoking had on the risk of cardiovascular events, death and the severity of CAD."
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For the study, the investigators examined the medical records of 13,372 patients from nine countries in Europe, North America, and East Asia and compared the risk of major heart problems in 2,853 active smokers, 3,175 past smokers, and 7,344 never smokers.
The results showed active smokers and past smokers more far more likely to have severely blocked coronary arteries compared to non-smokers — a significant risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
But after 2 years of follow-up, the researchers found rates of heart attack or death were almost twice as high among active smokers as those who had quit or never smoked. They noted past smokers still had higher rates of CAD, but roughly the same rates of heart attack or death as never smokers.
"Our results show that quitting smoking does not reduce the amount of disease smoking causes in the coronary arteries, but it does reduce the risk of heart attack and death to the levels of non-smokers," noted Dr. Min, director of the Institute of Cardiovascular Imaging at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital and the Weill Cornell Medical College. "Future studies are being pursued to determine how this protective effect may occur."
He added that the take-home message is: "It's never too late to quit smoking. This study clearly shows that stopping smoking lowers the risk of heart attacks and death to the level of never smokers."
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