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Smokers May Get Strokes 10 Years Before Nonsmokers

Study Shows Smokers Are on Average 58 Years Old When They Have a Stroke
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

man smoking cigarette

Oct. 3, 2011 -- Smoking is considered one of the major risk factors for strokes. Now research shows that smokers tend to have strokes close to one full decade earlier than nonsmokers.

Smokers were age 58, on average, when they had a stroke, while nonsmokers were 67, on average, according to a study presented at the Canadian Stroke Congress in Ottawa.

A stroke or brain attack occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked by a blood clot (ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel ruptures (hemorrhagic stroke).

Smokers in the study were two times more likely to have an ischemic stroke and two to four times more likely to have a hemorrhagic stroke compared to nonsmokers.

"We have always known that the more you smoke, the more you stroke, and now we know that the more you smoke, the younger you stroke," says study researcher Andrew Pipe, MD. He's chief of the division of prevention and rehabilitation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and a professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Ottawa.

Researchers examined the differences between 264 smokers who had a stroke and 718 nonsmokers who had a stroke between January 2009 and March 2011. Smokers were found to have strokes earlier. They were also more likely to experience complications after their stroke, including a second stroke.

Smoking Cessation Cuts Risks

The good news is that quitting smoking can help offset these risks, Pipe says.

"We have neglected smoking and have not been as resolute or resourceful in helping patients who are smokers as we have in addressing other risk factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol," he says. "Most of them know they shouldn't smoke and know that they should quit and are prepared to make a quitting attempt.

"The benefits of quitting smoking accrue so rapidly," Pipe says.

"We have always known smoking is bad for you, but we didn't know how bad," says Antoine M. Hakim, MD, PhD. Hakim is CEO and scientific director of the Canadian Stroke Network in Ottawa.

"Smokers are younger when they get their strokes and when they do have strokes, they are much more complicated," says Hakim. "Please quit, and when you do, your risk level is back down as if you have never smoked within two years."

Smokers tend to have strokes close to 10 years before nonsmokers. "That's pretty significant," says M. Shaman Hussain, MD, a neurologist at Cleveland Clinic's Cerebrovascular Center in Ohio.

"Strokes are hitting smokers much earlier in life when they are still the breadwinners and having a devastating stroke is a burden on them and the family who they support," he says.

Besides quitting smoking, smokers need to focus on reducing other risk factors for stroke. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • High blood cholesterol levels
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity

"Smokers especially need to be paying very close attention to the health of their blood vessels," Hussain says.

Quitting smoking is not easy, but there are more tools available to help a person do so today than ever before, he says. "Smoking takes a hold on people and quitting is a very difficult thing do."

If you are reading this article and you smoke, "contact your primary care doctor and see what is out there to help you quit tobacco," he says.

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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