Cigarette smoking and other risk factors for silent cerebral infarction in the general population

George Howard, Lynne E. Wagenknecht, Jianwen Cai, Lawton Cooper, Michael A. Kraut, James F. Toole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

187 Scopus citations


Background and Purpose - Silent cerebral infarctions (SCIs) have a prevalence between 10% and 40% in the transient ischemic attack population and have been associated with increased mortality and morbidity; however, little is known about the prevalence and risk factors for SCI in the general population. This report focuses on the role of cigarette smoking and other risk factors for SCI in the general population. Methods - MRI scans were performed on 1737 participants selected from the general population as part of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. Smoking status and other major cerebrovascular risk factors were assessed, and associations between smoking status and SCIs were established with the use of ANCOVA. Results - Overall, the prevalence of SCI in this population aged 55 to 70 years was 11%. Cigarette smoking had an ordered association (P=0.029) with the presence of SCI, with the odds ratio (OR) of nonsmoking participants exposed to environmental tobacco smoke being 1.06 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.64 to 1.75) times as great as for nonsmokers not exposed; the OR of past smokers was 1.16 (95% CI, 0.74 to 1.83) times greater, and the OR of current smokers was 1.88 (95% CI, 1.13 to 3.13) times greater. An increased prevalence was also noted among black, older, and hypertensive participants. Conclusions - This report is among the first to examine the risk factors for SCI in the general population and finds a relatively high overall prevalence (11%). There is an ordered relationship between increasing exposure to cigarette smoke and the presence of SCI that parallels the relationship between smoking and carotid atherosclerosis. The magnitude of the association with smoking is substantial compared with the effect of hypertension and other traditional cerebrovascular risk factors. The reduction in prevalence of SCI between current and past smokers and the trend that increased pack-years of smoking is related to increased prevalence of SCI are both additional arguments for smoking avoidance and cessation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)913-917
Number of pages5
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1998


  • Cerebral ischemia
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hypertension
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Risk factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Advanced and Specialized Nursing


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