Quitting smoking after a heart attack may improve mental health

Quitting smoking after a heart attack may improve mental health

It has been well documented that quitting smoking after a heart attack helps reduce the risk of a repeat heart attack and risk of death. But a new study found there are other benefits to ditching the bad habit, including improved overall health and quality of life.

People who quit smoking after a heart attack report less chest pain, better quality of daily life and improved mental health, according to the study. Many of these improvements were apparent as little as one month after quitting and were more noticeable after one year.

“Quality of life – feeling healthy and satisfied – is an important motivating factor for many people,” says Dr. Tahir Khokher, cardiologist at Advocate Heart Institute at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “And this new information might really be the inspiration for many heart attack patients looking for another reason to quit smoking.”

The study’s quality of life indicators included how often patients had chest pain and how much it limited their daily activities. Other factors included limitation in performing moderate exercise such as moving a table, pushing a vacuum or climbing several flights of stairs. Mental health status was determined by asking patients how often they felt calm and energetic as opposed to downhearted and depressed, and how often their emotional problems limited their work or other daily activities.

Researchers looked at data from 4,000 patients participating in several large trials, which studied heart attacks and recovery. At the time of their heart attacks, patients were classified as never smokers, former smokers who quit before their heart attack, or active smokers. Within the group of active smokers, 46 percent quit in the first year following their heart attacks.

According to study results, patients who never had smoked were less likely to report chest pain and had the best health-related quality of life scores. Compared to the nonsmoking patients, persistent smokers were 1.5 times more likely to have chest pain one year after their heart attack, after adjusting for other factors that play a role in mental health and general quality of life, such as pre-existing depression, other medical conditions and socioeconomic factors.

Dr. Khokher says chest pain severity and frequency are important indicators of how a patient is doing after a heart attack, and prolonged chest pain can indicate that a person is having a heart attack. Even brief episodes of chest pain while taking a walk or climbing stairs can be alarming, reducing quality of life and affecting mental health.

“For many reasons, it is best for your health if you never smoke,” says Dr. Khokher.  “But, people need to know that quitting smoking after a heart attack can and will provide many health and quality of life benefits compared to those who continue to smoke.”

For those people looking to quit smoking, Dr. Khokher recommends seeking assistance from a primary care physician or online resources like smokefree.gov. Providers also provide smoking cessation programs to help people who are looking to quit.


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About the Author

Nate Llewellyn
Nate Llewellyn

Nate Llewellyn, health enews contributor, is a manager of public affairs at Advocate Medical Group. Nate began his career as a journalist and builds daily on his nearly 20 years of writing experience. He spends most of his free time following his wife to their two sons’ various activities.