A new study presented in November at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2013 shows that smokers over the age of 65 may be able to lower their risk of heart disease to the level of those who have never smoked more quickly than previously believed.
The study, presented by Dr. Ali Ahmed, M.P.H., shows that older people who smoked less than 32 “pack years” and who gave up smoking 15 or less years before lowered their risks of developing heart failure or risking of heart failure, heart attacks and strokes to the same level as those who never smoked. Researchers had previously believed it would take at least 15 years for former smokers to reach that level.
In Ahmed’s study, the median length of time to reach the risk level of those who never smoked was eight years.
Ahmed, senior researcher and professor of cardiovascular disease at the University of Alabama’s at Birmingham’s School of Medicine, called the results “good news.”
“Now there’s a chance for even less of a waiting period to get a cleaner bill of cardiovascular health,” Ahmed said.
Dr. Moustafa Banna, cardiologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Cleburne and Texas Health Physicians Group, said the study results did not surprise him.
“We all know that smoking is damaging to all organs, especially to the cardiovascular system. And we know that smokers can improve their health by quitting. This is, finally, just data confirming what we have expected for some time,” Banna said. “But seven, eight years is still a long time to wait to benefit from stopping smoking, so the best thing is to stop smoking sooner rather than later.”
The trick, though, is in quitting. And that’s not easy, even with all the options available now — both prescription and over the counter — to help smokers quit, Banna acknowledged.