Here’s some health advice for all the smokers out there: quit — especially if you’ve suffered a heart attack. According to Italian researchers, those who quit smoking after a heart attack can expect the same (or better) health benefits than they could get from taking common meds. And for those who keep smoking after a heart attack, the warning is dire: don’t quit and you could up your risk for dying almost five-fold.
For the study, the researchers tracked 1,294 patients who reported being regular smokers before they were hospitalized with acute coronary syndrome, or ACS.
All the participants had stopped smoking while in the hospital and declared themselves motivated to continue with the non-smoking once they were released. Patients received a few brief smoking-cessation counseling sessions while in the hospital, but no further counseling, nicotine replacement or other smoking-cessation help was provided after they left the hospital.
The researchers interviewed patients about their smoking status at one, six, and 12 months after their release from the hospital. They found that a total of 813 (63%) had relapsed by the end of the first year. About half had begun smoking again within 20 days of leaving the hospital.
Within a year, 97 patients died. 81 of those deaths could be attributed to cardiovascular causes, according to the research team.
After adjusting for patient ages and other variables, the researchers found that resuming smoking raised a person’s risk of death three-fold compared to patients who didn’t relapse. More bad news: the earlier a patient fell off the wagon, the more likely he or she was to die within a year — those who resumed smoking within 10 days of leaving the hospital were five times as likely to die as those who continued to abstain(!).
And now the good news: very few patients relapsed after being smoke-free for six months. The researchers also found that quitting smoking has a similar life-saving effect for ACS patients as taking recommended drugs to lower blood pressure or cholesterol. The researchers concluded that patients who quit smoking for more than six months usually successfully break the habit and those who do quit significantly increase their long-term survival.
If you are a smoker and want to quit, ask for your doctor’s advice about smoking-cessation aids. Stopping smoking, especially after heart troubles, is like taking an alternative remedy that could extend your life.