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Jun 08, 2011

Smoking Significantly Increases Risk for Peripheral Artery Disease in Women

Female smokers ten times more likely to develop PAD than non-smokers.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a cardiovascular condition currently affecting about 8 million Americans. It is caused by the narrowing of arteries, which reduces blood flow and puts strain on the heart. PAD often causes pain in certain parts of the body, particularly in the legs, and increases risk for heart attack and stroke. While there are certain risk factors for PAD that you can’t control, such as age and family history, there are many that you can, including quitting smoking.

Smoking is one of the greatest risk factors for PAD. Smoking harms blood vessels by speeding the buildup of plaque in the arteries and reducing blood flow, which makes smokers extra susceptible to PAD. Need more proof?

A recent study at the Harvard Medical School followed nearly 38,000 healthy women over an average of 12.7 years to measure the relationship between smoking and risk for PAD. Results showed that not only are female smokers ten times more likely to develop PAD than non-smokers, the more they smoke, the more their risk for PAD increases. On the flip side is much better news: The longer the time since women quit smoking, the less their risk for developing PAD was.

So what does this mean? If you are a smoker, do all that you can to quit. Each day that you don’t smoke decreases your risk for developing PAD. And if you have already quit, keep up the good work! Not only have you reduced your risk for PAD, but you have decreased your risk for other serious conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and lung disease.

For more information about quitting smoking, visit the smoking cessation web sites of the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How do I know if I have peripheral artery disease (PAD)?

  • The most common symptoms for PAD include painful cramps in the hips and legs when walking, exercising or climbing the stairs, which goes away after stopping. Those with severe PAD may have foot or toe wounds that take a long time to heal and may experience leg pain that does not go away after physical activity. The good news is that PAD is easily diagnosed and doesn’t require any tests or needles, just a quick examination to check for weak pulses in the legs.
  • After quitting smoking, how long until my risk for peripheral artery disease equals that of a non-smoker?
  • In the study performed by Harvard Medical School, women having quit smoking for 20 years still had higher risk than women who never were smokers. However, compared with women who still smoke, their risk was significantly lower.

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