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Heart Disease Health Center

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Smoking Doubles Women’s Sudden Death Risk

First Sign of Trouble continued...

Overall, the study showed:

  • The risk of sudden cardiac death increased by 8% for every five years a woman smoked.
  • Heavy smokers who smoked 25 cigarettes a day or more had more than three times the risk of sudden cardiac death than women who didn’t smoke.
  • Women who smoked for more than 35 years had a 2.5 times higher risk of sudden cardiac death than never smokers.

“This is an important study because it links smoking to sudden cardiac death in those unfortunate women who don’t make it to the hospital,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the women's heart program at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.

“The study shows that even modest levels of smoking can increase the risk of sudden cardiac death,” says Goldberg, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. “People should know that just one cigarette is too much.”

Quitting Cuts Risk

Researchers also found quitting smoking had different effects on women’s sudden death risk depending on their heart disease status.

The risk of sudden cardiac death decreased almost immediately among women who quit smoking with no history of heart disease.

But this risk reduction was delayed among women who already had heart disease and quit smoking. For these women, the risk of sudden cardiac death dropped to that of non-smokers about 15-20 years after smoking cessation.

Sandhu says that may be because nicotine has both short- and long-term negative effects on the heart.

First, nicotine is thought to have some immediate effects that can lead to life-threatening irregular heartbeats and sudden cardiac death.

Second, cigarette smoke causes scarring of the heart tissue. This effect may persist long after quitting and contribute to the risk of sudden cardiac death.

“Cigarette smoking is an important modifiable risk factor for sudden cardiac death for women both with and without heart disease,” Sandhu says. “Women shouldn’t wait until the development of heart disease to quit.”

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