Sudden cardiac deathEven light-to-moderate cigarette smoking is associated with a significant increase in the risk of sudden cardiac death in women, according to new research. Investigators did find that smoking cessation can reduce and eliminate the risk over time.

“Sudden cardiac death is often the first sign of heart disease among women, so lifestyle changes that reduce that risk are particularly important,” said Roopinder K. Sandhu, MD, MPH, the study’s lead author and a cardiac electrophysiologist at the University of Alberta’s Mazankowski Heart Institute in Edmonton, Canada. Sandhu is also a visiting scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass. “Our study shows that cigarette smoking is an important modifiable risk factor for sudden cardiac death among all women. Quitting smoking before heart disease develops is critical.”

In the large prospective cohort of more than 101,000 healthy women without coronary heart disease at baseline, researchers examined the incidence of sudden cardiac death. Most of the participants were white, and all were between 30 and 55 years old at the study’s start. On average, those who smoked reported that they started in their late teens. During the study, 351 participants died of sudden cardiac death.

They discovered that light-to-moderate smokers (those who smoked one to 14 cigarettes daily) had nearly two times the risk of sudden cardiac death as their nonsmoking counterparts. For every 5 years of continued smoking, the risk climbed by 8%.

Within 15 to 20 years after smoking cessation, the risk of sudden cardiac death in women with heart disease dropped to that of a nonsmoker. In the absence of heart disease, there was an immediate reduction in sudden cardiac death risk, occurring in fewer than 5 years.