When both husband and wife smoke, the wife may be more likely to have a stroke than if she were married to a nonsmoker.

The finding appears in the journal Stroke. Adnan Qureshi, MD, and colleagues compared stroke risk among more than 5,300 married women over 8.5 years.

Stroke risk was nearly six times higher for cigarette-smoking wives with cigarette-smoking husbands than for cigarette-smoking women with nonsmoking husbands, write the researchers.

However, nonsmoking women married to smokers didn’t have a higher stroke risk in Qureshi’s study. The reasons for that aren’t clear. Perhaps those husbands made an effort not to expose their wives to secondhand smoke, write the researchers.

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Stroke and Smoking

Stroke is the No. 3 cause of death for U.S. men and women. When strokes don’t kill, they often cause disability. Getting emergency medical care at the first sign of stroke may help.

Smoking has long been known to raise the risk of heart disease and stroke. The study looked at one aspect of secondhand smoke — exposure to smoke from a spouse.

“If physicians are to make a real impact on reducing stroke risk among their patients, they should not only address their patients’ smoking habits, but also those of their spouses or partners,” says Qureshi in a news release.

Qureshi is a professor and director of the cerebrovascular program at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

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About the Study

The women were about 55 years old, on average. They were followed for an average of 8.5 years.

Here’s the breakdown on the couples’ smoking status:

—Nonsmoking women married to nonsmokers: About 1,200 women

—Nonsmoking women married to smokers: About 1,820 women

—Smoking women married to nonsmokers: 443 women

—Smoking women married to smokers: About 1,900 women

Women married to smokers were more likely to smoke and to have smoked more cigarettes for more years, write the researchers.

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Study’s Findings

When both partners smoked, the wife’s stroke risk was 5.7 times higher than that of smoking women with nonsmoking husbands, notes Qureshi.

There are different kinds of stroke. The most common type, called an ischemic stroke, is caused by a blood clot that interferes with blood flow to the brain.

In Qureshi’s study, ischemic stroke risk was nearly five times higher among smoking women married to smokers compared with smoking women married to nonsmokers.

Other factors — like age, race, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, diabetes, and obesity — were taken into account. However, some possible influences (like food habits) weren’t noted in participant interviews from 1982-1984, so those factors couldn’t be considered, write the researchers.

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Curbing Stroke Risk

Besides quitting smoking, there are other ways to lower your stroke risk.

Those steps include controlling blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, and cholesterol. A healthy, active lifestyle and good medical care can also help.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Qureshi, A. Stroke, Aug. 4, 2005; online edition. News release, American Stroke Association. WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: “American Heart Association (AHA) Guidelines for Preventing Coronary Artery Disease and Stroke.”