Study strongly links smoking to peripheral artery disease

Cigarette smoking increases the risk of peripheral artery disease and could last up to 30 years even after cessation, a new study found.

The study, led by a dedicated team of researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, was the first of its kind to examine comprehensively the risks of peripheral artery disease, in addition to coronary heart disease and stroke. Researchers probed a sample of 13,355 Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) cohort participants — 3,323 smokers and 4,185 former smokers — over a span of 26 years.

The results indicated participants who smoked for 40 pack-years (2 packs per day for 20 years or equivalent), or more, were 4 times more likely to develop peripheral artery disease and nearly twice at risk for coronary heart disease and stroke when compared to non-smokers.

“Our results underscore the importance of both smoking prevention for nonsmokers and early smoking cessation for smokers. The study also suggests that campaigns about smoking’s health risks should emphasize the elevated risk of peripheral artery disease, not just coronary heart disease and stroke,” said Kunihiro Matsushita, senior author of the study.

Moreover, the findings demonstrated how smoking drastically increased not just the intensity but duration of risk of peripheral artery disease. For former smokers, it took 30 years after cessation for the risk of peripheral artery disease to fall to similar categorization as non-smokers. In smokers at risk of coronary heart disease, it took 20 years until they saw a diminished risk following cessation.

“We observed a lower risk for peripheral artery disease, coronary heart disease, and stroke within five years of smoking cessation,” said Ning Ding, an author of the study. “Smoking almost always starts in adolescence or early adulthood, and it’s very important that young people understand how long the elevated health risk persists even after they’ve quit,” Matsushita added.

In the U.S., an estimated 8.5 million people, a portion being over the age of 69, are diagnosed with peripheral artery disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, released in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, and Department of Health and Human Services.