Smoking can cause atrial fibrillation

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Smoking can cause atrial fibrillation

Researchers find smoking causes a type of irregular heart beat which is known to lead to stroke, especially when combined with high blood pressure

Some of the health effects of smoking are well known, such as lung and other cancers, and others less so, such as the link with heart disease and stroke. Researches have recently made another surprise finding – that smoking raises the risk of atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heart-beat.

In this study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology this August, current smokers were more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than non-smokers. The more a person smokes the greater the risk, but quitting lowers it significantly. 

The researchers analysed existing studies to explore the link between smoking and atrial fibrillation. Smoking has been suggested as a risk factor before, but this is the first study to explore the relationship in detail. 

Based at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London in the UK, the team looked at 29 studies of atrial fibrillation rates in more than half a million current, former and never-smokers in Europe, North America, Australia and Japan. Compared to people who had never smoked, current smokers were a third (32%) more likely to have atrial fibrillation, while former smokers had a 9 percent higher risk. This risk varied depending on the number of cigarettes smoked a day. 

Why is Atrial fibrillation a problem?

Atrial fibrillation doesn’t usually have any symptoms but is a major cause of stroke. It doesn’t cause high blood pressure, and high blood pressure does cause atrial fibrillation, but having the two together puts you at a much higher risk of stroke. 

Nirmala Markandu, our Hypertension Nurse Specialist, explains: “Smoking can affect the heart and blood vessels in many ways, leading to heart disease and stroke. It can raise your blood pressure and this current study shows it can lead to atrial fibrillation too, leading to strokes. Most people with atrial fibrillation don’t know they have it, and it is surprisingly common. So, next time you visit your GP, ask them to listen to your heart beat to check for AF.” 

For help with quitting smoking, visit your GP or practice nurse or go to to see the wide range of support available. Or get involved with Stoptober, get a support plan that’s right for you in three easy steps.  

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Read the story in full in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology 

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