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Smoking Ups Stroke Risk for Young Women

But Study Shows Cutting Down or Quitting Smoking Can Reduce the Risk
By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News

Aug. 14, 2008 -- Young women who smoke are twice as likely to have a stroke as their nonsmoking peers, according to a new study. And the more cigarettes a woman smokes per day, the bigger her risk.

The study was published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association. The researchers, who studied women ages 15 to 49, found that women who smoke one to 10 cigarettes per day increase their stroke risk 2.2 times. Women who smoke 11 to 20 cigarettes per day increase stroke risk 2.5 times, while those who smoke 21 to 39 per day increase stroke risk more than fourfold. The heaviest smokers -- those who smoke 40 or more cigarettes per day -- increase their risk 9.1 times.

The study followed 466 women who had suffered their first strokes. A comparison group consisted of 604 women of similar age, race, and ethnicity who had not had a stroke. A detailed smoking history was obtained during face-to-face interviews. Women were classified according to their smoking status as never-smokers, former smokers, or current smokers.

"Our study adds strong evidence that cutting down helps reduce stroke risk, but quitting is unquestionably the best option," researcher John Cole, MD, assistant professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, says in a news release.

In 2005, an estimated 21% of American women aged 18-44 were cigarette smokers, according to researchers. The good news is that when women stop smoking, their risk of having a stroke decreases. Stroke risk decreases significantly three years after smoking stops. After five years of being smoke-free, former smokers have the same risk of stroke as never-smokers. And the earlier that smokers quit, the better. People who quit smoking prior to age 35 can have the same life expectancy as those who have never smoked.

The researchers point out that media campaigns and high prices for tobacco products help curb smoking rates among young people. "Our study supports the need to target smoking as a preventable and modifiable risk factor for cerebrovascular disease in young women," they write.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute on Aging, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the American Heart Association helped fund the study.

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