TUESDAY, Dec. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Women who are light or moderate cigarette smokers -- lighting up as little as once a day -- still have an increased risk of sudden cardiac death, new research suggests.
"In our study we found small-to-moderate quantities, one to 14 cigarettes per day, were associated with almost a twofold higher risk of sudden cardiac death compared to women who never smoked," said lead researcher Dr. Roopinder Sandhu, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alberta, in Canada.
As the years passed, the risk climbed, even with light smoking.
The study appeared online Dec. 11 in the journal Circulation: Arrhythmia & Electrophysiology.
Sudden cardiac death is responsible for up to 400,000 deaths outside the hospital every year in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. Sudden cardiac arrest can occur when abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias, cause the heart to stop pumping blood to the body.
Sandhu and colleagues followed more than 100,000 healthy women, all without known heart disease, stroke or cancer at the study start, from the Nurses' Health Study. It began in 1976, and researchers have collected health information from the women twice a year, asking about habits and medical histories. Sandhu looked at records dating back to 1980.
During the 30 years of follow-up, 351 women died of sudden cardiac death. Sandhu, also a visiting scientist at Brigham & Women's Hospital, in Boston, looked at smoking patterns and found the link.
While the overall link between smoking and heart problems, as well as smoking and cancer and other health problems, has been known for a long time, experts knew less about how the quantity and duration of cigarette smoking affected risk.
At the study's start, 29 percent smoked, more than 26 percent had quit and more than 44 percent never smoked.
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