It takes 15 years for the heart to fully recover after you quit smoking: Study
Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center analyzed data on 8,700 people over a span of 50 years and found that it takes a decade for the hearts of smokers to rejuvenate
A new study has found that smokers will have to wait 15 years after quitting if their risk of heart disease and stroke must return to that of a non-smoking individual. While previous studies have claimed that the risk of a stroke for smokers stabilizes within five years, new research suggests that it may take up to three times the said duration.
Being the first report to examine the connection in a living cohort, it will be presented next week at the American Heart Association conference. Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center analyzed data on 8,700 people over a span of 50 years and found that it takes well over a decade for the hearts of smokers to rejuvenate themselves completely from the lethal damage caused by nicotine, tobacco and the countless other chemicals present in cigarettes.
Lead author Meredith Duncan, a Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says that heart and blood vessels are the fastest to recover from the damage caused by smoking. However, when it comes to lungs, it is a different story altogether.
That said, cases of heart disease are rising in almost every country, especially the US and the UK, owing to obesity, stress, lack of exercise, and poor diets. Unfortunately, the number of organs available for transplant is rapidly decreasing at the same time. But according to recent statistics, ever since The Cigarette Papers published in the early '90s revealed the true harm they deliver, cigarettes have been falling out of fashion.
With the number of former smokers on the rise, the health risks the smokers face are still unknown to many. While some have turned to vaping, quite a few experts have called the practice dubious and under-studied and asserted that vapers face the same chemicals and addictions that come with smoking regular cigarettes. Nonetheless, many have gone cold turkey after realizing the dangers of elevated cancer, lung disease, heart disease, and stroke risk.
Having said that, Duncan and her team in Nashville, Tennessee, wanted to gauge how long it took after the milestone decision to show real health benefits. Speaking to Daily Mail, Duncan said, "There was a lack of information about what actually happens to people in the long-term based on estimates from rigorously collected data."
The team pooled data from the Framingham Heart Study (1948 -1975) in order to investigate two generations of people, with half of them being regular smokers. They categorized "heavy smokers" as people who smoked at least a pack a day for 20 years, and found that the group accounted for 70 percent of heart attacks in the study.
Those who quit saw their risk drop 38 percent after five years as compared to those who hadn't quit. However, it was found that former smokers' cardiovascular disease risk returned to the level of never-smokers only after a staggering 16 years of quitting cold turkey.
"For people who have smoked heavily over many years, there could be changes in the heart and lungs that don’t completely normalize," Duncan explains. "What’s key to remember is that the actual risk of heart attack and other forms of cardiovascular disease goes down, and this is a main finding of our current study."
That said, it is well-established that blood vessels are the first beneficiaries of quitting smoking. After just 20 minutes of the last cigarette, a person's heart rate and blood pressure drops to normal. Twelve hours without smoking stabilizes carbon monoxide levels in the blood, almost to an undetectable level.
According to Duncan, within a week of quitting, the risk of a heart attack drops significantly as the heart and blood vessels "are no longer exposed to chemicals in cigarette smoke that make platelets more 'sticky' and cause unwanted blood clotting." However, the risk of heart disease still lingers for a while. "So even for heavy smokers, we cannot overstate the benefits of quitting smoking," Duncan says.
Now, Duncan's research is proceeding to take a closer look at how the risk of lung cancer changes over time after a smoker has quit. "We previously performed an analogous investigation using lung cancer as our outcome instead of [cardiovascular disease]," Duncan says. "We would like to revisit that topic, this time incorporating genetic data into our models to assess the interaction of genes and smoking habits on lung cancer risk."