Smoking Creates Long-Lasting Risk for Clogged Leg Arteries

Tobacco use is a major contributor to the three leading causes of death among Blacks—heart disease, cancer, and stroke. However, a new study warns, cigarette smokers have a sharply higher risk of peripheral artery disease (PAD) too – and even if they quit, that added risk can last for decades.

PAD narrows arteries in the leg, leading to reduced blood flow that causes pain, poor wound healing, and other symptoms. The study also showed that smoking increases the odds of developing PAD more than it raises the risk of heart disease and stroke.

This study included more than 3,300 current smokers, nearly 4,200 former smokers and a few thousand people who never smoked. They were followed for a median of 26 years; half were followed for less time, half more. Compared with people who never smoked, those who had smoked for more than 40 pack-years had a four times higher risk of PAD and roughly twice the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.

Pack-years is a measure of smoking. Ten pack-years can mean one pack per day for 10 years or two packs per day for five years or some other combination. Compared to never-smokers, people who currently smoke more than a pack a day had 5.4 times the risk of PAD; 2.4 times the risk of coronary heart disease; and 1.9 times the risk of stroke.

“Our results underscore the importance of both smoking prevention for nonsmokers and early smoking cessation for smokers,” said senior author Dr. Kunihiro Matsushita. He is an