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Quit Smoking, Help Your Heart

5 Years Later, Even Slow-to-Fade Blood Effects Are Gone
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WebMD Health News

June 28, 2005 -- When the urge to smoke strikes, keep your heart in mind.

Five years after your last cigarette, blood inflammatory markers that are linked to heart disease fade from your blood.

Other blood effects recover even faster when smoking stops, say researchers in Public Library of Science Medicine.

Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for the development of heart disease. Smoking causes inflammation in the blood, which can lead to and worsen existing heart disease. But ex-smokers can reverse that damage in time, say the researchers.

Scientists working on the study included Arvind Bakhru, a medical school student at the University of Rochester.

Bakhru is now an intern at University of Maryland's obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences department.

Smoking and the Blood

Data came from more than 15,000 U.S. adults who took part in a national health survey.

Nearly 7,700 said they had never smoked. More than 3,400 were former smokers who quit an average of 13 years earlier. About 4,365 were current smokers.

Blood tests showed levels of chemicals tied to smoking. Some were markers of inflammation, which can eventually hurt the heart, say the researchers.

Smokers had higher levels of those inflammatory markers, as expected. But that wasn't the end of the story.

Back to Normal

Within five smoke-free years, those inflammatory markers had fallen back to normal, say the researchers.

That matches the time frame seen in other studies of heart disease risk in ex-smokers, say the researchers.

Other blood traits recover faster when smoking stops. But inflammatory markers may be the best gauge of improving heart health in former smokers, say Bakhru and colleagues.

Try, Try Again

Ready to quit smoking? Be patient and stick to it, say health experts.

"Most smokers need to 'practice' quitting several times before they make it for good," says the American Lung Association (ALA)'s web site.

"The best advice is to keep trying!" says the ALA. "Practice helps smokers plan what to do the next time they get an urge to smoke."

Quit-Smoking Strategies

The ALA's advice:

  • Pick a good time to quit. Stressful times and holidays may be tough.
  • Know that smokers have different experiences when quitting.
  • Get some exercise every day.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Ask family, friends, and co-workers for support.

Quit-smoking groups and educational materials are also recommended by the ALA. The ALA is one of many groups promoting such resources.

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