There is no doubt that smoking and heart disease go hand-in-hand. The health risks smoking brings to the table go far beyond breathing problems. Cigarettes can have negative effects on your blood, and in turn, your heart, and cigarette smoking is the main cause of preventable death in developed countries.
In addition to permanently damaging your heart and blood vessels, cigarette smoke can also cause cardiovascular disease by changing your blood chemistry and causing plaque — a waxy substance composed of cholesterol, scar tissue, calcium, fat, and other materials — to build up in your arteries. Your arteries are the major blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to your body. This plaque buildup can lead to atherosclerosis.
But it doesn’t stop there. More recent studies have shown that there are new heart-health concerns being linked to smoking. So, let’s take a look at some of them and find out what else cigarette smoke may be doing to your heart.
Most people associate cigarette smoking with breathing problems and lung cancer, but 20%-30% of all deaths from heart disease in the United States are directly related to cigarette smoking. In fact, one of the most recent studies found that smoking increases the risk of virtually all types of heart disease. And not only that, it’s responsible for at least doubling the risk of many, including cerebrovascular disease and heart failure and heart attack. The study also found that an abnormally fast heartbeat is a newly identified smoking-related risk.
Your heart attack risk greatly increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke. If you’re a smoker and continue to smoke for a very long time, you’re also increasing your risk of having a heart attack as you get older. In fact, if you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, you’ll have more than twice the risk of heart attack than nonsmokers.
If you’re a woman, and smoking while taking birth control pills, you’re significantly increasing your risk of heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.
Nicotine has historically been considered the primary mechanism driving the development of tobacco use disorders.
Among other things, the nicotine present in smoke causes:
A recent study found that nicotine has cognitive-enhancing effects, including improvement of fine motor functions, attention, working memory, and episodic memory. It’s these cognitive-enhancing effects of nicotine that may be an important factor in smoking addiction.
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoke also affects the people around you — including children. Environmental tobacco smoke (also called passive smoke or secondhand smoke) can cause chronic respiratory conditions, cancer and heart disease. Other negative effects that come from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke include:
Studies also show that older children of parents who smoke get sick more often. Their lungs grow less than children who do not breathe secondhand smoke, and they get more bronchitis and pneumonia.
Learning the facts about smoking and heart disease is a good first step to quitting. You can use this information as motivation to get rid of the cigarettes for good.
If that’s not enough motivation, try to keep this in mind. Quitting smoking can also be helpful in:
If you are a smoker and you are concerned about your cardiovascular health, consulting with your doctor about nicotine replacement therapies or other cessation options may help you protect your heart long-term.
If you’re thinking about quitting, our free guide can help. You’ll learn the short- and long-term effects of quitting and ways to help you live the rest of your life smoke-free.