Symptoms: Dire Warning for Light Smokers
Light smokers â€” people who smoke just a few cigarettes a day â€” may reasonably assume that they are in less danger than heavier smokers. But a new study offers evidence to the contrary when it comes to cardiovascular disease.
Even the authors of the study, which appears in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, said they were surprised.
"I'll tell you, we were totally flabbergasted," said one author, Dr. John A. Ambrose of St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers in Manhattan. The researchers wanted to look at the effect smoking has on the thin layer of cells that line blood vessels and are known as endothelial cells.
They examined three groups: nonsmokers, people who said they smoked about three cigarettes a day and those who reported smoking 20 cigarettes a day or more.
Regardless of the amount of tobacco use, smokers exhibited the same changes in the blood vessel lining, the researchers wrote.
In each case, the cells were found to produce less nitric oxide, a chemical important for maintaining the health of the cardiovascular system. When tested, the smokers' blood vessels dilated less than those of the nonsmokers, the authors said.
The damage to the endothelial tissue, Dr. Ambrose said, is the first step toward the serious cardiovascular disease atherosclerosis, which occurs when plaque forms on the walls of the blood vessels. The smokers tested had been screened to make sure they had no other known risk factors for heart disease, he said.
The researchers did not try to establish how long the test subjects had been smoking, nor did they try to learn how long it would take the body to repair itself if someone stopped smoking.