We all know that smoking is bad for your lungs, but did you know that it can also damage your heart? There is already a strong link between smoking and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and between smoking and the risk of blood clots in the coronary arteries of the heart, but studies have been unable to answer the question: Can smoking cause atrial fibrillation (AF)?
Some studies have found a correlation between smoking and AF, but others have been unable to find a clear link. In an attempt to understand whether there is a link between smoking and AF a “meta-analysis” has been conducted, compiling the data between a number of different studies. The results were then screened for other factors, such as wealth, which could impact the final data.
In this particular study the results for both active and former smokers have been compiled and compared with people who have never smoked. The study also looked at how long an individual smoked, and how much they smoked, in order to determine how this impacted an individual’s chance of getting AF.
Findings of the study on Smoking and Atrial Fibrillation
The outcome was definitive. Active smokers had a 32% higher risk of atrial fibrillation than people who have never smoked. Even former smokers were found to have a 9% higher risk of atrial fibrillation as compared to non-smokers. Taking active and former smokers together, there is a 21% higher risk of atrial fibrillation compared to someone who has never smoked in their life.
The study also found a relationship between the amount of cigarettes consumed daily, and your risks of developing AF. The risk increases by 14% per 10 cigarettes a day. This means that if you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, your risk of developing AF increases by around 28%.
Additionally, the longer a person has smoked, the higher their risk. There is a 16% increased risk of developing AF for every 10 years you have smoked, assuming that you were smoking 10 cigarettes a day for that time.
Conclusion of the study
While this evidence strengthens the argument that smoking increases the risk of atrial fibrillation, just how big a risk factor is it? The increased risk of AF if you are an active smoker, corresponds to the difference in risk between 60 year-olds and 63-year olds. It also corresponds to the difference between a body-mass index of 30 instead of 27.
In the grand scheme of things, this means that smoking is just one factor that could contribute towards you contracting AF, rather than a certainty. However this should not be used as an “excuse” not to quit smoking. There are a number of health benefits for quitting tobacco, and 480,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone are directly attributed to smoking.