Viewing Own Clogged Arteries Spurs Smokers to Quit
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Smokers who were forced to look at images of their own hardened arteries are nearly four times more likely to quit smoking than those who simply received counseling to quit, Swiss researchers report.
In the study, smokers were shown ultrasound photographs of the fatty plaques in their blood vessels.
"Showing a smoker evidence of a health problem which relates importantly to his or her smoking makes him or her realize the danger of smoking," study author Dr. Pascal Bovet, a senior lecturer at the University Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine in Lausanne, Switzerland, told Reuters Health. "It is possible that this increases the motivation to quit smoking."
The researchers selected 153 smokers living on the Seychelles islands who had received counseling to quit smoking from their physicians. Bovet and colleagues randomly assigned half to undergo ultrasonography, a screening method growing in popularity that can show fatty plaques in the carotid arteries in the neck and the femoral arteries in the upper thigh. Such lesions indicate that the arteries of the heart are probably partially blocked as well, increasing the risk of heart attack.
"Because this investigation can be done quickly (in 10 minutes), is non-invasive and is not costly (about $40), this investigation has a large potential to help classify patients at high risk of having a heart problem," Bovet said.
The patients who had developed more than one plaque on their artery wall were shown two photos of that thickening of the artery wall. It was also explained to the patient how that damage could lead to a heart attack or a need for bypass surgery.
"It is easy for the patient to see the problem on the photograph," Bovet noted. "A plaque really looks like a starting obstruction and this can be explained within a minute. Patients show a real understanding and interest of this. Smoking becomes then not just a remote and hypothetical hazard but a current health problem."
Six months later, the researchers tracked down the patients and asked them whether they had quit smoking. According to the findings, published in the February issue of the journal Preventive Medicine, only 6% of patients who had not seen an image of their arteries reported that they had quit smoking, while 22% of those who had viewed an image of their hardened arteries said they had quit.
This finding suggests that use of scans could be cost-effective if it helps motivate smokers to quit, potentially reducing the high cost of treating later health problems associated with smoking, Bovet noted.
"We propose that whenever this investigation is done to assess the risk of a patient, we do not miss the opportunity to use the results, when positive, to help smokers to quit smoking," he said. "Considering the huge hazard of smoking, this intervention can potentially be very cost effective."
However, for those who were informed that an arterial scan had turned up no signs of plaque, there seemed to be no increased motivation to stop smoking, with only 5% reporting they had quit 6 months later.