A new analysis of the Nurse’s Health Study has quantified just how much smoking contributes to sudden cardiac death and how quitting can potentially reduce or eliminate that risk.
“Cigarette smoking is a known risk factor for sudden cardiac death, but until now, we didn’t know how the quantity and duration of smoking affected the risk among apparently healthy women, nor did we have long-term follow-up,” said Roopinder K. Sandhu, M.D., M.P.H., the study’s lead author and a cardiac electrophysiologist at the University of Alberta, Canada.
Data from 101,000 US nurses who were tracked for over three decades showed that light-to-moderate smokers, which the study defines as smoking one to 14 cigarettes a day, were twice as likely to experience sudden cardiac death than their non-smoking counterparts. Furthermore, in most cases, the fatal heart attacks occurred in people who did not have a history of heart disease or heart failure.
The findings, which were published in the journal Circulation: Arrhythmia & Electrophysiology, also revealed that 15 to 20 years after quitting, the risk declined to that of nonsmokers.
“This is a real wake up call,” says ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan. “Even light to moderate smoking has the potential to be as deadly as heavy smoking. Light smokers most definitely need to be made aware of these risks and should be advised to quit as soon as possible.”