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Smoking and Heart Disease

Though it is common knowledge that smoking is associated with lung cancer and emphysema, a lesser known fact is that it is also a major cause of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association estimates that smoking is the leading preventable cause of premature deaths in the United States, contributing to 440,000 deaths annually. Even secondhand cigarette smoke is harmful, killing an estimated 35,000 non-smokers per year.



Nearly 20% of deaths from heart disease can be attributed to smoking. The amount of cigarettes smoked per day and the length of time an individual has smoked are major factors in determining their risk of heart disease. Smoking a pack of cigarettes a day more than doubles the risk of heart attack. However, even for heavy smokers, studies have shown that the damage to the heart and lungs can be reversed. Just one year after quitting, the risk of heart disease gets reduced by half. After fifteen years, heart disease risk becomes the same as that of a lifetime non-smoker. Also read: When you stop Smoking…What happens?

Cigarette damages the body in many ways. It contain 43 known carcinogens, including nicotine and carbon monoxide. Tar, hydrogen cyanide, and some 4,000 other chemicals of varying toxicity are inhaled by smokers. Cigarette smoke also contributes to the buildup of arterial plaque deposits.

Effects of Nicotine on Cardiovascular Health

Nicotine, the addictive chemical in cigarettes, increases the risk of heart disease in several ways. It decreases the amount of oxygen supplied to the heart and increases blood pressure and heart rate. It narrows the blood vessels and this puts more strain on the heart. Nicotine also increases blood clotting and risk of coronary artery disease.

Link between Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease

Smoking is linked to the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis. These deposits thicken and clog the arteries, slowing the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. Coronary artery disease results when the deposits cause severe narrowing of the arteries. When one of the arteries becomes completely blocked, a heart attack can occur. Atherosclerosis can also cause a condition called peripheral artery disease, when blood vessels in the arms and legs are affected by plaque, sometimes leading to stroke. Atherosclerosis is also associated with other major health problems, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Carbon Monoxide in Cigarette Smoke

Nicotine is not the only poisonous substance in cigarettes. Heavy smokers are at risk from the increased cigarette-borne carbon monoxide in their blood, which reduces about 8% of the blood’s oxygen carrying capacity. This occurs because the poisonous carbon monoxide binds to red blood cells hundreds of times more easily than oxygen does, making it difficult for the red blood cells to release oxygen to the body. Carbon monoxide also interferes with the pumping mechanism of the heart.

Primarily, quitting smoking will allow the body to recover from the damage done, thus reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and several types of cancer. People who quit smoking feel healthier, look better, and live longer.

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