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How Smoking Affects Your Heart

separator Smoking is a leading cause of heart disease, and heart disease can lead to heart attack. People who smoke have double the risk of heart disease as people who don’t smoke, and four times the risk of sudden death from a heart attack. Additionally, smoking seems to have negative effects on the health of people who don’t smoke themselves. Some research has shown that people who live with someone who smokes have double the risk of coronary artery disease.

How exactly does smoking affect the health of your heart?

Effects that happen right away
Smoking has long-term effects, but there are certain things that put a strain on your heart as soon as you begin to smoke a cigarette:

  • Your blood pressure goes up.
  • You heart rate goes up.
  • Your arteries get narrower, so blood doesn’t flow through them as easily, and can’t carry oxygen to your heart.
  • Your blood platelets become sticky and are more likely to clump together and form a clot.

All of this happens every time you smoke. Eventually, your system suffers from even more damage.

Effects that occur over time
It’s bad enough that you strain your cardiovascular system every time you light up. But the harmful effects don’t stop there. Long-term damage of smoking includes

  • Arteries lose their ability to dilate and contract as needed for efficient blood flow.
  • Levels of “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, tend to rise.
  • Levels of “good” cholesterol, or HDL, the kind that protects your system, tend to go down
  • Blood pressure tends to increase, even when you’re not smoking
  • Blood platelets tend to get sticky and clump together, increasing your risk of blood clots.
  • Arteries are more likely to contain fatty buildups, or plaque, which can block blood flow.
  • Recent evidence suggests that people who smoke have higher levels of three factors that promote clotting and inflammation: homocysteine, fibrinogen and C-reactive protein (see our news article for more on this study). [PROVIDE LINK HERE]

Additionally, women who smoke tend to enter menopause an average of two years earlier than women who don’t smoke. This increases the risk of heart disease, because estrogen levels go down after menopause, and estrogen protects the cardiovascular system.

Quitting can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease
You already know that quitting is good for your heart. You do. So the only good choice is to take steps to quit smoking. It’s hard. Very often, people try to quit, then fail, then try again, and so on, until eventually, they succeed. It’s like that old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” If you’ve tried one method and it didn’t work, try another one. What are the options out there for you?

Get help from your doctor. People who do this tend to have higher success rates. Your doctor can give you support and recommend the best quitting technique for you.

Get help from loved ones. If you have family members who smoke, ask them to quit with you. If there’s no family member who wants or needs to quit, see if you can find a friend who wants to. You can support each other when things get difficult. Even if nobody else you know needs to quit smoking, you should still tell them what you’re up to. They can offer support as well.

Record your reasons for quitting. Why do you want to quit smoking? You must have some concrete reasons. Do you want to lose that smoker’s cough? Do you want to be able to tell you children that you don’t smoke anymore? Are you afraid of getting cancer? Whatever your reasons are, write them down and look at the list every day. It can help motivate you when things get hard.

If you quit, reducing your risk of heart disease is only one of the good things you’ve done for yourself. You also reduce your risk of cancer of the lung, throat and mouth, and of chronic lung conditions, such as emphysema. You’ll also experience more of life’s simple pleasures. Exercise will become easier. Food will taste better. And you’ll have more peace of mind.

The American Heart Association; N. Goldberg; Women are not Small Men: Life-saving Strategies for Preventing and Healing Heart Disease in Women. Ballantine Books, New York, New York, 2002; M. Mogadam, Every Heart Attack is Preventable. Lifeline Press, Washington, D.C., 2001
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