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Quitting smoking adds five years to life for those with heart disease, study finds

April 7 (UPI) -- Quitting smoking adds up to five years of life for a person with heart disease, an analysis presented Thursday during the European Society of Cardiology's Preventive Cardiology 2022 scientific congress found.

This is comparable to the benefits these same people would receive by taking medications to lower levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, which is known as "bad cholesterol," the researchers said in a presentation during the meeting.

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For adults age 45 years and older who still were smoking at least six months after suffering a heart attack and/or undergoing stent implantation or bypass surgery, stopping the habit added 4.81 heart disease-free years to their lifespans, the data showed.

Meanwhile, taking two medications designed to lower bad cholesterol and an additional anti-inflammatory drug at the same time added 4.83 heart disease-free years to life, according to the researchers.

"The benefits of smoking cessation are even greater than we realized," study co-author Dr. Tinka Van Trier said in a press release.

"Our study shows that kicking the habit appears to be as effective as taking three medications for preventing heart attacks and strokes in those with a prior heart attack or procedure to open blocked arteries," said Van Trier, a cardiologist at Amsterdam University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

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About 13% of adults age 18 years and older in the United States are regular smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The habit has been linked with nearly 500,000 deaths nationally each year, with many caused by heart disease, the agency estimates.

Many current and former smokers are treated with cholesterol-lowering medications as well as blood pressure-controlling drugs to prevent the onset of heart disease or limit its effects, according to the American Heart Association.

For this study, Van Trier and her colleagues used data from 989 patients age 45 years and older who were still smoking at least six months after having a heart attack and/or undergoing stent implantation or bypass surgery.

The average age of the study participants was 60 years, and 23% were women, the researchers said.

Most of the participants had been prescribed standard preventive medications for heart disease, including antiplatelets, statins for cholesterol control and blood pressure-lowering drugs, according to the researchers.

The researchers estimated the gain in healthy years, or those without a heart attack or stroke, if participants quit smoking, they said.

They also calculated the gain in healthy years if participants continued smoking but took three additional drugs to prevent heart disease, including two cholesterol-lowering drugs and one anti-inflammatory.

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"Smoking cessation remains a cornerstone of preventing heart attacks and strokes and improving overall health at any time, including after a heart attack and at any age," Van Trier said.

"We know that cigarette smoking is responsible for 50% of all avoidable deaths in smokers, of which half are due to cardiovascular disease [and] giving up cigarettes after a heart attack is linked with improved survival compared with persistent smoking," she said.

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