For some people, a stroke can be a cure for their cigarette addiction. A recent study included patients with strokes and active smokers, defined as those who had quit in the week prior to the stroke. Physicians recruited 130 patients to participate in the study, which assessed smoking behaviors and risk factors. Thirty-two potential participants were excluded, including those with previous brain lesions, severe aphasia, or refusal to participate.
The researchers studied brain lesions to see if there were similar brain regions for smoking cessation and stroke remission. Of these patients, 34 met criteria for smoking cessation and had multiple brain lesions. Although the patients were not able to quit smoking after their strokes, they had no cravings and did not start smoking again after their recovery. The study was a bit of a controversial one, but there is hope.
Several factors may explain the differences in cessation rates between stroke survivors and non-stroke patients. Although the study was small, there were a few important lessons. The participants in the study were not significantly different from one another in terms of age, sociodemographic status, or clinical characteristics, which could lead to different abstinence rates. Further research on larger groups of stroke patients is needed to control for potential confounding factors.
The risks of stroke are higher among smokers than non-smokers. In addition to increasing the risk of stroke, smoking also decreases the amount of oxygen in the blood. High blood pressure is the major risk factor. Tobacco smoke contains over four thousand harmful chemicals, which cause damage to the blood vessels. After five to 10 years, the risk of stroke becomes similar to that of not smoking at all.
While some researchers believe that the insula is a critical neural substrate in the urge to smoke, others disagree. Despite the lack of direct evidence, the results of the study suggest that the insula is important in controlling our bodily urges. Patients who have brain damage in the insula are more likely to successfully quit smoking. A stroke in the insula could be a cure for cigarette addiction, but there are many other factors involved. It is highly unlikely that the medical profession will encourage behavior that leads to a stroke in the quest to eliminate the cravings of sufferers.