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Smoking Raises Risk Of Atrial Fibrillation

December 28, 2008

New research from the Netherlands provides yet another reason not to smoke. 

The study found that current and former smokers have an increased risk of a condition known as atrial fibrillation, or AF, the most common type of heart arrhythmia in the United States.

Those with AF experience abnormal electrical activity in the heart, which causes its two upper chambers to beat in a fast, uncoordinated rhythm. And while arrhythmia itself is not life threatening, over time AF can contribute to heart failure or stroke in some people. In the United States AF affects nearly 2 million people.

Although smoking has long been known to be a risk factor for heart disease, it was not clear whether it raised the risk of AF.  However, the latest study suggests that it does, for both current and former smokers.

Researchers in the Netherlands found that of the roughly 5,700 Dutch adults age 55 and older whose records they examined, current and former smokers were about 50 percent more likely to develop AF over 7 years.

AF “has to be added to the long list of diseases” associated with smoking, said Dr. Jan Heeringa of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in an interview with Reuters.

“An independent effect of smoking on atrial fibrillation has never been found, until now, in our study,” said Heeringa, the study’s lead researcher.

Even after the scientists accounted for factors such as age, high blood pressure and history of heart attacks, smoking remained linked to an increased AF risk.

Heeringa was surprised that former smokers had an AF risk comparable to that of current smokers.

However, the results do not suggest that kicking the habit is “meaningless,” since it is well known that smokers who quit lower their risk of developing lung cancer and heart attacks, Heeringa said.

“Stopping of smoking, at any age, has huge beneficial effects on health,” he added.

The study was published December 2008 in the American Heart Journal.

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