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Kick the habit: Smoking doing more damage than you think



According to new research, smoking is doing even more damage than previously thought.

A new study has discovered that the more an individual smokes, the worse their heart function becomes.

Cigarette smoking is responsible for around 50 per cent of all avoidable deaths in smokers, half of these deaths are due to atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease such as stroke and heart attack.

Study author Dr Eva Holt says: “It is well known that smoking causes blocked arteries, leading to coronary heart disease and stroke.

“Our study shows that smoking also leads to thicker, weaker hearts. 

“It means that smokers have a smaller volume of blood in the left heart chamber and less power to pump it out to the rest of the body. 

“The more you smoke, the worse your heart function becomes. 

“The heart can recuperate to some degree with smoking cessation, so it is never too late to quit.”

Figures from the World Health Organisation suggest that tobacco is the cause of death for over 8 million individuals each year.

Previous studies have established the link between smoking and an increased risk of heart failure, as it causes the heart to not pump blood around the body as well as it should.

This is because of the heart muscle becoming either too weak or stiff.

The failure of the heart is caused as the body does not receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs for normal function.

However, the link between heart structure/function and smoking is yet to be fully examined.

This new study aims to explore whether smoking was associated with changes in the structure and function of the heart in individuals without cardiovascular disease, and what effects of changing smoking habits has.

The study used data from the 5th Copenhagen City Heart Study, which investigated cardiovascular risk factors and diseases in the general population.

3.874 individuals aged between 20 and 99 years, who had no personal history of heart disease were involved.

Participants were given a questionnaire to fill in on smoking history, in order to estimate pack-years, which is the number of cigarettes smoked through life.

One pack-year is defined as 20 cigarettes smoked everyday for one year.

The participating individuals all had an ultrasound of the heart (echocardiography), as this provides information on the hearts structure and how well it is functioning.

The research team cross analysed the echocardiography measures of current smokers against those who had never smoked, after adjusting for age, sex, BMI, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and lung function.

The average age of participant was 56-years-old, with 43 per cent of the study group being women.

18.6 per cent of the participants were current smokers, whilst 40.9 per cent were former smokers and 40.5% had never smoked.

In comparison to those who had never smoked, current smokers had thicker, weaker and heavier hearts.

Increased pack-years also ties with pumping less blood.

Dr Holt says: “We found that current smoking and accumulated pack-years were associated with worsening of the structure and function of the left heart chamber – the most important part of the heart. 

“Furthermore, we found that over a 10-year period, those who continued smoking developed thicker, heavier and weaker hearts that were less able to pump blood compared to never smokers and those who quit during that time.

 “Our study indicates that smoking not only damages the blood vessels but also directly harms the heart. The good news is that some of the damage is reversible by giving up.”