Smokers suffering from cardiovascular disease who quit smoking extend their life by an average of five years. Moreover, the chance of a next cardiovascular event is postponed by 10 years, on average. This is the outcome of a study among almost 5000 patients suffering from cardiovascular disease, one third of whom continued smoking after, for instance, an initial heart attack, cerebral infarction or medical treatment. UMC Utrecht researcher Johanneke van den Berg is to obtain her doctorate with this study on Thursday.

Of the 4,673 patients who participated in the study, 33 percent smoked at the time of onset of cardiovascular disease. The average age of the patients was 61, and smokers were, on average, five years younger than the non-smokers when they presented with the first symptoms of cardiovascular disease. Two thirds of the smokers continued smoking after this first, life-threatening event. Another remarkable outcome of the study is that patients aged 70 and over who quit smoking after the first symptoms of cardiovascular disease on average lived longer than patients who continued smoking.

‘Quitting smoking at a more advanced age is beneficial, too, even when you're over 70’, says Van den Berg. ‘The study shows that those who continued smoking had more problems with their vessels and that their chances of a second cardiovascular event are significantly greater. This is, of course, not very surprising, but as long as patients smoke, it remains important to point out the benefits of quitting smoking, particularly because the effect of quitting exceeds all other preventive treatments, such as taking medication to lower blood pressure or cholesterol.’

Van den Berg also studied the weight of the patients. ‘We know that, on average, people are getting heavier, and this also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. The most remarkable outcome was that the largest increase in weight, expressed in BMI (Body Mass Index), manifested itself in 'younger' cardiovascular patients aged 50 and under. Advice and information on the dangers of being overweight and trying to slim down to a healthy weight are paramount, particularly for relatively young patients suffering from cardiovascular disease.’