MONDAY, Oct. 3, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Compared to people who don't smoke, smokers face twice the risk of stroke and they are likely to have that stroke nearly a decade sooner, a Canadian study finds.
But within two years of quitting smoking, the risk for stroke or heart disease drops to non-smoker levels, the researchers said.
"Stroke is preventable," said Dr. Mike Sharma, deputy director of the Canadian Stroke Network (CSN), in a CSN news release. "This study highlights the sizable role smoking has on stroke. Quitting smoking, controlling blood pressure, following a healthy diet and being physically active significantly reduce the risk of stroke."
In conducting the study, to be presented Monday at the Canadian Stroke Congress in Ottawa, researchers examined 982 stroke patients over roughly two years. The researchers found the average age of stroke victims who smoked was 58 -- nine years younger than the average age of the non-smokers.
Smoking causes atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque inside the blood vessels, and increases the risk of blood clots. The study's authors said smokers have double the risk of a stroke caused by a dislodged blood clot (ischemic stroke) and four times the risk of a stroke caused by a ruptured blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke) than people who don't smoke.
"The information from this study provides yet another important piece of evidence about the significance of helping people stop smoking," said study co-author Dr. Andrew Pipe of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, in the news release. "It also alerts the neurology community to the importance of addressing smoking in stroke patients."
The study also showed smoking increases the risk for complications from stroke and the likelihood of subsequent strokes. To prevent this from happening, the researchers said several initiatives are needed, including:
- Limiting children's access to tobacco
- Curbing the use of illegal tobacco products
- Monitoring prices for tobacco products
- Systematically helping smokers quit
- Establishing an integrated smoking cessation unit within the health community
"It is critical for governments to continue to wage the battle against tobacco industry products," concluded Dr. Michael Hill, Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson, in the news release.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on the health effects of smoking.