Thousands of smokers could die from a disease they have no idea they have, research shows.
Smoking contributes to a number of deadly conditions, including cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes any disease of the heart or blood vessels and can lead to events such as heart attack or stroke.
At least 10 percent of women and 20 percent of men who smoke will eventually die of a CVD event such as a heart attack or stroke, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
While some may have been aware that they had CVD, many would have no idea they had CVD before it killed them, the researchers found.
The first “symptom” of their illness was their death.
This most likely happened to people over the age of 60 – 4.9 percent of female smokers and 6.7 percent of male smokers.
But rates were still high for those in their 40s and 50s with 4.5 and 4.8 percent, respectively.
Even among teens in their 20s and 30s, about 1.6 / 1.7 percent of smokers die suddenly from a CVD incident they had no advance notice of.
The numbers were lower for non-smokers.
There were around 6.9 million smokers in the UK in 2019, suggesting that hundreds of thousands will fall victim to sudden death.
Statistics show that around 78,000 people die from smoking-related diseases each year.
The researchers concluded in their paper that those who light up have an increased risk of CVD disease, “especially at the occurrence of a fatal CVD event as a first presentation,” compared to non-smokers.
They had analyzed nine previously published studies involving more than 106,000 American adults, each of which was followed for up to 25 years.
It is well documented that harmful substances in tobacco can damage and narrow the blood vessels.
This can continue to cause atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease and peripheral arterial disease – all examples of CVD.
Symptoms may include chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting or nausea, numbness in the legs, change in skin color and erectile dysfunction.
But often there are no signs, such as with atherosclerosis, and a non-fatal heart attack or stroke is the first time someone is aware of their condition.
The longer someone has smoked, and the more cigarettes they have a day, the greater the risk of CVD – one of the leading causes of death and disability in the UK.
But researchers are concerned that the message is not clear enough, even for young people, who are rarely involved in smokers’ health research.
Dr. Judith Prochaska, professor of medicine and tobacco research at Stanford University in California, told Everyday Health: “Smoking is by far the leading cause of lung cancer – if not for cigarette smoking, lung cancer would be a rare disease.
“While with heart disease there are many causes, and only about one in five cases of heart disease is attributed to cigarette smoking.”
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among smokers, but it is not recognized as a “smoking disease”, as lung cancer does, said Dr. Prochaska.
Lead author of the study Dr. Sadiya Khan, an assistant professor and cardiologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said: “The risk of heart disease is sometimes perceived as something that does not affect younger adults and is a long time away.
“These findings underscore that even short-term exposure to smoking can have negative consequences.”
But the researchers noted that it is never too late to quit smoking.
The risk of a heart attack is halved only one year after a person quits smoking.
This story originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced here with permission.