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Smoking can affect leg arteries for decades after people quit

Researchers say that even if smokers quit, they have a significantly higher risk for peripheral artery disease that does not fade fast.

By HealthDay News
Smoking can affect leg arteries for decades after people quit
While it is known that smoking cigarettes can have a negative effect on circulation, new research suggests this risk can persist for decades -- even if smokers quit. Photo by Free-Photos/Pixabay

Cigarette smokers have a sharply higher risk of peripheral artery disease, or PAD -- and even if they quit, that added risk can last for decades, a new study warns.

PAD narrows arteries in the leg, leading to reduced blood flow that causes pain, poor wound healing and other symptoms.

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The study also showed that smoking increases the odds of developing PAD more than it raises the risk for heart disease and stroke.

This study included more than 3,300 current smokers, nearly 4,200 former smokers and a few thousand people who never smoked. They were followed for a median of 26 years; half were followed for less time, half more.

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Compared with people who never smoked, those who had smoked for more than 40 pack-years had a four times higher risk of PAD and roughly twice the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.

Pack-years is a measure of smoking. Ten pack-years can mean one pack per day for 10 years or two packs per day for five years or some other combination.

Compared to never-smokers, people who currently smoke more than a pack a day had 5.4 times the risk of PAD; 2.4 times the risk of coronary heart disease; and 1.9 times the risk of stroke.

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"Our results underscore the importance of both smoking prevention for nonsmokers and early smoking cessation for smokers," said senior author Dr. Kunihiro Matsushita. He is an associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. "The study also suggests that campaigns about smoking's health risks should emphasize the elevated risk of peripheral artery disease, not just coronary heart disease and stroke," Matsushita said in a Johns Hopkins news release.

About 8.5 million people in the United States have PAD, including more than 10% of people over 69, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most cases go undiagnosed and there is a lack of public awareness about the disorder, the researchers noted. The study was published July 22 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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More information

The American Heart Association has more on PAD.

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