Exploring the link between smoking and heart health
Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable diseases and death in the United States. According to the CDC, smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans yearly. Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 toxic chemicals. When inhaled, these toxins affect several bodily functions, which can result in lung cancer, emphysema, and even heart diseases.
About 20% of smoking-related death is caused by heart disease. In this article, we explore the relationship between smoking and heart health.
How Smoking Affects Cardiovascular Health
Every human requires oxygen to live, and we obtain it from breathing in air. As the lung takes in oxygen, it delivers it to the heart, which then supplies the rest of the body with oxygen through the blood.
When you smoke, your blood becomes contaminated with chemical toxins. As these toxic chemicals are pumped to other parts of your body – through the blood – they damage your blood vessel and heart. This may ultimately lead to cardiovascular diseases.
Types of Cardiovascular Diseases Caused By Smoking
Several heart-related conditions can arise as a result of smoke toxins within the body. Common examples include:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Coronary heart diseases
- Heart attack
But that’s not all. The chemicals in cigarette smoke can also result in atherosclerosis. This disease results from the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances within the artery walls. This buildup is referred to as plaque, and it causes the narrowing of the arteries, thereby blocking blood flow.
Smoking can also cause some serious (but rare) heart conditions like:
Abdominal aortic aneurysm
An abdominal aortic aneurysm is an enlarged area in the lower part of the major vessel that supplies blood to the body (aorta). With time, the enlarged area can eventually burst, resulting in sudden death.
Peripheral artery diseases (PAD)
Smoking is also the leading cause of PAD. This is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to your limbs. This condition prevents your arms or legs – usually your legs – from receiving an adequate supply of blood. Severe cases of PAD may result in amputation.
Risk of Secondhand Smoke
Secondhand smoke is smoke you don’t mean to breathe in. Exposure to secondhand smoke usually arises when you mingle with people who smoke – either with friends or strangers in shared spaces.
Secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system, which can damage heart tissues, lower HDL cholesterol, and raise blood pressure. In severe cases, it may result in stroke or even coronary heart disease.
Pregnant women are told to stay away from smoking. But secondhand smoke can negatively impact the fetus. It can cause babies to be born with low birth weight and birth defects. Premature babies with respiratory distress syndrome are also highly susceptible to secondhand smoke.
Statistical Impact of Smoking on Heart Health
Over 30 million Americans are diagnosed with heart disease. And every year, about 650,000 Americans die from heart disease, making it the leading cause of death in the United States. Of these deaths, about 20 per cent is directly caused by cigarette smoking.
But here’s what’s interesting. According to the CDC, secondhand smoke causes nearly 34,000 premature deaths from heart disease among nonsmokers. This means that about 26 percent of people that die from smoking-induced heart diseases are nonsmokers.
Reducing Your Risk of Smoking-Induced Heart Diseases
Thankfully, there are several things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease resulting from smoking. Some of the most important ones include:
Don’t Start Smoking.
If you’ve not started smoking, then it’s best to avoid it. Why? Tobacco contains nicotine, which is very addictive. That’s why smokers have the compulsive urge to smoke, even in the face of negative health consequences.
This is easier said than done, but it is extremely important. You instantly reap the benefits of quitting smoking no matter how addicted you are. Studies have shown that just 20 minutes after you quit smoking, your heart rate drops to normal levels.
In 12 hours, the levels of carbon monoxide (which is a toxic chemical) drops to safe levels in the body, allowing more toxin-free oxygen to reach vital organs like the heart. And within four years after you quit smoking, your risk of stroke drops to the levels of a lifetime nonsmoker.
Remember, smoking increases your risk of heart disease by two to four times that of a nonsmoker, so it’s wise to stop as soon as possible.
Here are some strategies that can help you quit smoking:
1) Develop a strong mindset to quit.
2) Set a date to quit and tell your friends and family about it. Ask them for their support.
3) Get medicine that can help. Examples include nicotine gum, patches, and lozenges.
4) Be prepared for withdrawal and even relapse.
The key to quitting smoking is to never give up. Most people that try to quit smoking usually relapse about three times before they finally succeed.
Avoid Secondhand Smoke
This last thing you want is to develop heart disease because of secondhand smoke. Avoid gatherings with smokers. Tell your friends and family not to smoke when you’re together in a vehicle or any other shared space.
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