A new British study has found that heart disease patients who quit smoking can reduce their risk of premature death by about 36%, regardless the severity of their illness or their age.
The study reviewed 20 previous studies of smoking cessation among heart patients. The 20 studies included more than 12,000 people, of whom nearly 5,700 were smokers.
Taken together, they showed that people who stopped smoking reduced their risk of death by 36% compared with those who continued lighting up.
The so-called "relative risk" of suffering non-deadly heart attacks was also lower, by 32%, in the groups that quit smoking. Follow-up periods in the studies ranged from two years to 26 years. However, the risk of death didn't fall with time, suggesting that most of the drop in risk associated with quitting smoking occurs within two years or so of cessation.
Researchers surmise the link is probably related to the way tobacco smoke exacerbates plaques in narrowed blood vessels. Smoking damages the cells that line vessel walls. When these cells are the only thing keeping a plaque from breaking loose into the bloodstream, the added weakening can be devastating. When a person stops smoking, they snuff out a major source of instability for their vulnerable plaques—thus avoiding future heart attacks and strokes.