Oxford University researchers today presented data that reveal the extent to which smoking causes silent but deadly damage to health at the annual scientific meeting of the American Heart Association (AHA).
Working with Life Line Screening’s database of several million US adults, Oxford researchers looked at people without symptoms who attended the company’s screening service. The researchers found that smokers were 12 times more likely than non-smokers to develop an abdominal aortic aneurysm, which can burst leading to sudden death.
They also found that leg circulation problems were seven times higher and carotid artery narrowing, which can lead to stroke, five times higher in current smokers compared to those who have never smoked.
“Smokers are much more likely to develop life-threatening vascular problems,” said Dr. Richard Bulbulia, who led the study. “We all know that smoking damages health, but many smokers may be unaware of just how they are putting their lives at risk because of these dangerous conditions that develop silently over time.”
Vascular disease is one of the leading causes of death globally. It is affected by a range of personal factors and lifestyle choices such as smoking, diet, blood pressure and adiposity, which can be modified to reduce risk.
The researchers used screening data from 3.1 million US adults who underwent four non-invasive procedures: ultrasound of the carotid artery that feeds blood to the brain, ultrasound of the aorta (the major artery to the heart), an ECG to help determine stroke risk and blood pressure in the arms and legs to assess circulation. The results are being presented today at the AHA Annual Meeting in Chicago and clearly show the importance of cigarette smoking as a risk factor for these asymptomatic, silent conditions.
“We are very pleased to be collaborating with Oxford University in this important research,” says Dr. Mohsen Chabok, MD, MSc Clinical Director at Life Line Screening UK. “We are committed to contributing to the research base ultimately improving patient lives.”
The work will also help determine the importance of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity for these ‘silent’ vascular conditions, helping to prevent significant disease and premature death from vascular disease.
“The range of assessments undertaken treats cardiovascular disease as a whole body disorder, which is important, rather than focusing just on individual organs, such as the heart,” Dr. Sarah Lewington, a co-author of the study, added. “While conditions like aortic aneurysms and carotid stenosis can be treated with medicines - statins to lower cholesterol, aspirin and blood pressure lowering drugs; sometimes these conditions require surgery or stents. Prevention is surely better than cure. Don’t start smoking, and if you do smoke, stop.”
This work is funded by a Henry Goodger Fellowship, and CTSU receives core funding from the British Heart Foundation, UK Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK.