Fewer Heart Attacks After Kicking the Habit

Quitting smoking lowered heart attack rates to those of never smokers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Smoking is hard on a person’s heart. Fortunately, quitting smoking can help people live longer, heart-healthier lives.

A recent clinical trial obtained non-invasive images of the heart arteries of a large group of smokers, former smokers and never smokers.

The images showed that, while former smokers had more signs of disease in their heart arteries than non-smokers, they did not have higher rates of death or heart attack.

"Quit smoking — it's never too late."

James K. Min, MD, of Weill Cornell Medical College, presented these findings at the 2013 European Society of Cardiology Congress.

For this study, the researchers looked at data from a clinical trial called the Coronary CT Evaluation for Clinical Outcomes: An International Multicenter Study (CONFIRM).

The ongoing CONFIRM trial includes 13,372 patients from nine countries in Europe, North America and East Asia.

Among the participants, 2,853 were smokers, 3,175 were former smokers and 7,344 had never been smokers.

As part of the trial, participants underwent coronary computed tomographic angiography (CCTA), which renders a direct image of the arteries around the heart.

The results of the CCTA showed that smokers and former smokers had 1.5-fold greater odds than never smokers of having narrowing in one and two major arteries of the heart.

Smokers and former smokers had double the odds of having severe narrowing in all three major arteries of the heart.

Two years later, the researchers followed up with the participants and found that 2.1 percent had either died or experienced a heart attack. Heart attack or death occurred at nearly twice the rate in smokers compared with people who had never smoked.

Former smokers had higher rates of disease in the heart arteries, and more severe forms of the disease, but they did not have higher rates of heart attack or death, compared with never smokers.

The study authors noted that the trial's follow-up period was only two years, and a longer follow-up period could give more information about the heart health of former smokers.

“Our study was the first to demonstrate that the presence and severity of coronary blockages do not go away with quitting smoking, but that the risk of heart attack and death does,” Dr. Min said in a press statement.

“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,” Dr. Min continued.

"It has been clear for a long time that smoking is an independent risk factor for coronary and vascular disease, however, this adds to the previously perceived fact that risk of dying from a heart attack can be significantly altered by quitting smoking at any time," David L. Brown, MD, an interventional cardiologist at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano where he is director of interventional cardiology and co-director of cardiovascular research and the structural heart program, told dailyRx News.

"In addition, smoking is a significant contributor to other vascular disease, particularly lower extremity artery disease that can also be improved the sooner one quits smoking and starts regular, consistent exercise," said Dr. Brown.

These findings were presented at the annual European Society of Cardiology Congress held in Amsterdam, The Netherlands from August 31 to September 4, 2013. This study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Review Date: 
September 5, 2013
Last Updated:
September 26, 2013