Study finds new link between cigarette smoking and elevated risk of peripheral artery disease

Researchers have found new evidence that cigarette smoking can boost the risk of peripheral artery disease, or PAD, and that this elevated risk can persist up to 30 years after smoking cessation. The study also found that the link between PAD was even stronger than that for coronary heart disease and stroke.

PAD, which affects 8 to 12 million people in the United States and millions more worldwide, is characterized by the build-up of plaque in the arteries over time, which reduces blood flow to the lower limbs. The disease can result in painful cramping and leg numbness, and in severe cases, can lead to gangrene, leg amputation, and early death. The disease, which is often underdiagnosed, is especially prevalent in people age 50 and older with a history of smoking or diabetes.

In the current study, researchers analyzed data on 13,355 people participating in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, including 3,323 current smokers and 4,185 former smokers, who were tracked for a median period of 26 years. It is the first comprehensive comparison of the smoking-elevated risks of PAD, coronary heart disease, and stroke in a large population over time, they said.

The researchers found that, compared with people who never smoked, those who smoked more than 40 pack-years had about 4 times more risk for PAD compared to 2.1 times and 1.8 times more risk for coronary heart disease and stroke, respectively. A pack-year is a measure of smoking: 10 pack-years is about 1 pack a day or 2 packs per day for 5 years or some similar combination. The study underscores the importance of smoking cessation and suggests that campaigns about smoking’s health risks should including warnings about the increased risk of PAD, the researchers said.

The study, funded by NHLBI, appeared in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The journal article was accompanied by an editorial.


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