Smoking: Heart Attack and Stroke Risks

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Smoking: Heart Attack and Stroke Risks

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If you smoke, your chance of dying from a heart attack is 2 to 3 times greater than that of a person who does not smoke. About 1 out of 4 heart attacks is believed to be directly related to smoking. Smoking is a much more important risk factor for a heart attack than high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure, or stress. Exercise and a good diet cannot erase the risks to your heart caused by smoking.

Smoking even a few cigarettes a day (1 to 4) increases your risk of coronary artery disease. If a person who smokes has a heart attack, his or her risk of sudden death is twice as great as the risk of a person who does not smoke.1

After you quit:

  • Your risk of having a heart attack is cut in half 2 years after you quit smoking. And 15 years after you quit, your risk of a heart attack is similar to that of a person who never smoked.
  • Even if you have already had a heart attack, quitting smoking will reduce your risk of having a second one, perhaps by as much as 50%.3
  • Even if you gain weight when you quit, your risk of heart attack decreases.

People who quit smoking before age 50 reduce by half their risk of dying in the next 15 years compared with continuing smokers.2

If you already have coronary artery disease, your risk of a second heart attack and possible sudden death decreases when you quit smoking.

A person who smokes is twice as likely to die from a stroke as a person who does not smoke. From 5 to 15 years after you quit smoking, your risk of stroke is the same as if you had never smoked.4 No one has completed a study on the benefits of quitting smoking in people who have had strokes. But since quitting reduces the risk of having a second heart attack, it is likely that quitting also reduces the risk of having a second stroke.

Related Information



  1. National Guideline Clearinghouse (2001, updated 2009). Guideline synthesis: Tobacco use cessation. Available online:
  2. National Institutes of Health (2010). Tobacco addiction: Fact sheet. Available online:
  3. Wilson K, et al. (2000). Effect of smoking cessation on mortality after myocardial infarction. Archives of Internal Medicine, 160(7): 939?944.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1990). The Health Benefits of Smoking Cessation: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1990 (DHHS [CDC] Publication No. 90-8416). Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer John Hughes, MD - Psychiatry
Specialist Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Last Revised August 31, 2009

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