Smoking increases risk of peripheral arterial disease in women, even 20 years after quitting


Any women looking for (yet another) reason to quit smoking -- or better yet, never to start -- might be interested in this: Researchers at the Harvard Medical School have found that the more a woman smokes, the more likely she is to develop peripheral artery disease, a debilitating condition where narrowing of the arteries restricts blood flow to the extremities.

According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, the disease affects millions of people in the United States. Symptoms include pain and numbness in the limbs (usually the legs), and in severe cases reduced blood flow can lead to infections and even amputation. The disease increases the risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke and mini-stroke.

This study, which was published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was one of the first to examine the relationship between smoking and peripheral artery disease in women, its authors said.


The team used the Women’s Health Study, which followed 39,876 healthy women, age 45 and above, beginning in 1993, to measure the relationship between smoking and peripheral artery disease. The study asked about symptoms related to the disease and also whether women had never smoked, had smoked in the past, were current smokers who puffed away at fewer than 15 cigarettes a day or were current smokers who consumed 15 or more cigarettes a day.

The researchers found that the more cigarettes a woman smoked per day, the more likely she was to develop peripheral artery disease. Women who stopped smoking within the past 10 years were less than half as likely to have the disease than women who were current smokers; women who quit 10 to 20 years ago, about a quarter as likely, women who quite 20 or more years ago, about 15% as likely. Women who had never smoked were only 8% as likely as current smokers to have peripheral artery disease.

“Although smoking cessation dramatically reduces the risk for PAD, an increased disease risk remains even after long-term smoking cessation, which demonstrates the importance of both prevention of smoking initiation and efforts to promote long-term abstinence,” the researchers wrote.


Click here for a summary of the research from the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Read more about peripheral artery disease from the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart Lung and Blood Institute here, and from the Mayo Clinic here.