In a large United Sates based cohort investigation, results indicate, after 13 years of follow-up, that current smokers double their chances of developing atrial fibrillation (AF) in comparison to those who have never smoked.

People who quit smoking have a significantly lower risk of developing AF in comparison to those who continue smoking, indicates a study published in the August edition of HeartRhythm, the official journal of the Heart Rhythm Society.

AF is a common heart rhythm disorder with over 2 million people in the U.S. diagnosed and approximately 160,000 new cases identified every year. Although many risk factors have been identified for AF, including obesity, hypertension and diabetes, the link between AF and smoking is not as clear, according to the Heart Rhythm Society.

From 1987 to 1989, the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study enrolled a population-based cohort of more than 15,000 black and white participants aged between 45 and 64 years old. The number of cigarettes smoked per day, smoking status (current, former or never) and age of smoking initiation or cessation, were questions to all participants.

An evaluation of the study led by Alanna Chamberlain, PhD, and co-authors, shows 876 incident AF events during an average 13-year follow-up period. The risk of AF was discovered to be 1.32 times greater in former smokers and twice as high in current smokers in comparison to those who never smoked. Also, former heavy smokers had an 89% increased risk of developing AF, while current heavy smokers had a significantly higher risk of 131% compared to never smokers, indicating that quitting smoking reduces the risk of developing AF. For those who quit smoking there was 12% reduced risk of AF in comparison to people who continued smoking.

Co-author Alanna M. Chamberlain, PhD, MPH, Department of Health Sciences Research at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota explained,

“AF is a serious health issue that decreases quality of life and significantly increases the risk of stroke.

It is my hope that our study findings will shed more light on the impact that smoking has on cardiovascular diseases, and help individuals realize they can play a role in preventing the development of atrial fibrillation.”

These discoveries support previous results that smoking increased the risk of AF development. Also indicating that links between smoking and AF do not differ between races, despite overall AF incident rates being lower in blacks. Additionally, this is the first study to record differences in AF development between participants who remained smokers during the course of the study follow-up and those who quit. Future investigations may decide to focus on the role of smoking cessation in the prevention of AF development.

Written by Grace Rattue