Quitting Smoking After A Heart Attack Reduces Chest Pain, Boosts Mental Health

Quit smoking
Heart attack victims who quit smoking afterward experienced immediate health benefits. MilitaryHealth CC BY 2.0

Smoking is bad. This can be repeated over and over again — it’s just not a good thing to do. It does a number on your heart, which can lead to heart attacks, and those are serious. So serious, in fact, that there's the saying, "(insert serious event) is as serious as a heart attack.” Although there are cheap methods to help you kick the habit, it's oftentimes still difficult. That said, a heart attack may get to you before any of these methods help, and may even be the reason to quit you were looking for. The silver lining in all this, according to new research, is that people who quit smoking after a heart attack experience immediate health benefits.

The study, which was published in journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, comes from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and states that quitting smoking after suffering a heart attack can lead to health benefits such as less chest pain, better quality of daily life, and improved mental health.

"Even in people who smoked and had a heart attack, we see fairly rapid improvements in important measures of health and quality of life when they quit smoking after their heart attacks, compared with people who continue smoking," senior author Dr. Sharon Cresci said in a press release.

Though quitting smoking after suffering a heart attack has been linked to the reduction of future heart attacks and risk of death in general, there’s little evidence to support what happens during the daily lives of heart attack victims who decided to give up smoking. The researchers analyzed 4,000 patients who were involved in several trials that investigated heart attacks and recovery. At the time of their heart attacks, patients were classified as never smokers, former smoker, and active smokers. Forty-six percent of the active smokers quit within the first year following their heart attack.

"Obviously those patients who had never smoked did the best after their heart attacks," Cresci said. "But those who had quit prior to their heart attacks looked remarkably similar to the never smokers.” Patient who quit after their heart attack had a decent level of recovery but were much better off than the people who continued to smoke. The active smokers fared worse in the amount of chest pain they suffered and in the questions they answered regarding their mental health and quality of life.

Even after researchers controlled for other factors, like pre-existing depression, medical conditions, and socioeconomics, the health improvements of quitters remained significant. One of the important factors in judging how a person is doing post-heart attack is the frequency and degree of angina, which is pain or heaviness in the chest that can radiate into the left arm and neck.

"Angina can be quite debilitating for patients," Cresci said. "Episodes of angina are scary, especially when patients have just had a heart attack. The symptoms are a signal that the heart is not getting enough oxygen, which affects the quality of people's daily lives."

Source: Cresci S, et al. Association of smoking status with angina and health-related quality of life after acute myocardial infarction. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. 2015.

Join the Discussion