Diseases & Conditions
Ex-smokers are not free from long-term lung damage
In the journals
People who quit smoking decades ago are still at risk for lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to a study published online Oct. 9, 2019, by The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.
Researchers looked at lung capacity — the amount of air in your lungs after taking a deep breath — among more than 25,000 people and analyzed the results based on whether the individuals smoked, had quit smoking, or had never smoked. Previous research has suggested that the decline in lung capacity that occurs with smoking levels off within a few years after people quit.
However, this new study found that although lung capacity declines at a much slower rate in ex-smokers compared with current smokers, the rate of decline in ex-smokers is still higher than the normal age-related decline in never-smokers over a 30-year period.
While ex-smokers have taken a major step to improve their health, they need to be aware they are still at high risk for lung diseases, even many years after quitting, according to the researchers.
If you are a longtime ex-smoker and experience occasional shortness of breath or low energy, don't chalk it up to age. Your symptoms may be an early sign of COPD or another lung problem, and you should consult your doctor.
Image: Iryna Imago/Getty Images
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.