If you're a woman smoker, you probably already know that you should quit. But here's another incentive: smoking may more than double a woman's risk of sudden cardiac death. Quitting, on the other hand, can ultimately lower that risk.
Sudden cardiac death is the leading cause of heart-related deaths in the U.S., with as many as 450,000 deaths each year.
The study, which is published in the journal Circulation: Arrhythmia & Electrophysiobiology, looked at the effect of smoking and quitting smoking on more than 100,000 women who participated in the Nurses' Health Study. In the 30 years of the study, there were 351 cases of sudden cardiac death.
The researchers said women who had smoked the most cigarettes for the longest period of time were at highest risk of sudden cardiac death. Women who smoked 25 or more cigarettes a day had three times the risk of non-smoking women and women who smoked for more than 35 years had 2.5 times the risk of non-smokers. But even women who smoked only a few cigarettes a day had a higher risk than women who did not smoke.
After quitting, the risk declined immediately among women who did not have heart disease and decline more slowly among those who did have heart disease. For the women with heart disease, it appeared to take nearly two decades before their risk approached that of women who had never smoked.
The researchers say that nicotine could cause irregular heartbeats and smoke itself could scar heart tissue.
If you're ready to stop, here are some tips for quitting smoking from the American Heart Association.