Decade after Quitting, ‘Ex-Smokers’ Arteries Relax’

Ten years after quitting, former smokers’ arteries return to a level of stiffness seen in non-smokers, according to an article published this week by the American Heart Association.

“Smoking a single cigarette, passive or secondhand smoking and chronic smoking all lead to stiffer arteries, which in turn increase resistance in the blood vessels and, therefore, increase the work that the heart must do,” said Noor Ahmed Jatoi, lead author of the study, published in Hypertension, the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“Smoking is a major risk factor, not only for lung disease and cancer, but also for heart attack, stroke and heart failure,” said Jatoi of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

Arterial wall stiffness, or arteriosclerosis, is associated with high blood pressure, stroke and other circulatory problems.

Jatoi and his group studied 554 people who had high blood pressure but had never been treated for it, 56 percent of whom were women and with an average age of 47.

They divided them into three groups, of 150 smokers, 136 former smokers and 268 who had never smoked.

“We categorized ex-smokers according to how long they were off cigarettes: under one year; more than one but less than 10 years; and more than 10 years of smoking cessation,” Jatoi said.

The researchers used pulse wave analysis to measure arterial stiffness, the study said.

They found that among current smokers and those who had quit less than one year prior had significantly stiffer arterial walls than non-smokers.

Arterial stiffness improved somewhat after quitting up to 10 years, but it was only among persons who had quit smoking for more than 10 years whose arteries were back to normal.

“Our study reinforces the message that smoking cessation is an important step smokers can take to enhance the quality and length of their lives,” said Jatoi.

“It shows both the unhealthy effects of smoking and the benefit of smoking cessation on the arterial wall,” he said. “The longer one stops smoking, the better.”

Researchers said that more research needs to be done to confirm the findings.

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