Heavy Smokers Who Quit Still At High Risk for Stroke

While any doctor will tell you that people who quit smoking increase their chances of avoiding serious medical problems, many studies have shown that quitting alone may not be enough to prevent long-term health difficulties.

For example, it was only yesterday that we reported on a study (to be published in the Journal of Dental Research) that found long-time smokers are more likely to get root canals than nonsmokers.

In that study, smokers who had smoked for more than 12 years were most likely to have a root canal. Current smokers who had smoked for fewer years had a lower risk of having a root canal, but they were still more likely than nonsmokers to have one.

Root canals, however, are far less ominous than the risk discussed at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in Kissimmee, Florida, this week.

In a study that demonstrates how much a person smoked is more significant than how long ago he or she may have quit, Dr. Sachin Agarwal and a team of researchers from John Hopkins Hospital (Baltimore, Maryland) found that people who had been heavy smokers before quitting remain at a significantly increased risk for stroke.

In an interview with Reuters Health, Dr. Agarwal stated that quitting “can reduce risk but it can’t erase it” since smoking creates a “lifelong risk.”

Strokes primarily occur when one or both of the neck arteries are narrowed as a result of plaque build up.  This makes them susceptible to closure by blood clots that will then prevent the flow of blood to the brain.
The researchers conducted a series of studies to discover the magnitude of some of the health risks associated with smoking.  Using magnetic resonance imaging, the team compared aortic wall volume and carotid artery thickness in 27 former smokers and 15 non-smokers.

The comparison revealed that the aortic walls of the individuals who had been smokers were thicker.  In addition, they noted that as duration and frequency of smoking increased so did wall thickness. Carotid artery wall volume was also higher in former smokers than those who had never smoked.

According to Dr. Agarwal and his colleagues, the data sends a clear message to all smokers; “quit as soon as possible.”

(Source: Reuters Health 2/24/06)

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