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Smoking and Heart Disease

The American Heart Association (AHA) says diseases caused by smoking kill more than 440,000 people in the U.S. each year. Most new smokers are children and teens. Smokers have higher risk for lung disease. This includes lung cancer and emphysema. They also have increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

Facts about smoking and heart disease

  • One out of every 5 smoking-related deaths is caused by heart disease.

  • Women older than 35 who smoke and take birth control pills are at much greater risk for heart disease or stroke.

  • Cigarette smokers are 2 to 4 times more likely to get heart disease than nonsmokers.

  • Cigarette smoking doubles a person's risk for stroke.

How does smoking change the heart and blood vessels?

Smoking:

  • Causes an instant and long-term rise in blood pressure.

  • Causes an instant and long-term increase in heart rate.

  • Reduces blood flow from the heart.

  • Reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches the body's tissues.

  • Increases risk for blood clots.

  • Damages blood vessels.

  • Doubles the risk of stroke (reduced blood flow to the brain).

Smoking has also been linked with depression and stress.

What are the risks of secondhand smoke?

The CDC says about 34,000 nonsmokers die from heart disease each year from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. Secondhand smoke is smoke exhaled by smokers. It also includes smoke from the burning end of a lit cigarette, cigar, or pipe.

Exposure to smoke poses health hazards to pregnant women, infants, and young children. Children and infants exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to have ear infections and asthma. They are also at higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

These symptoms may be from exposure to secondhand smoke:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat

  • Coughing

  • Excessive phlegm (mucus in the airways)

  • Chest discomfort from lung irritation

  • Chest pain

  • Bronchitis

The symptoms of secondhand smoke may look like other medical conditions and problems. Always see your  healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

Smoking and heart disease

Smoking, along with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity, and diabetes, tops the list as a primary risk factor for heart disease. In fact, smoking is the single most preventable cause of early death in the U.S.

Why quit smoking?

According to the AHA, stopping smoking reduces the risk for heart disease, the risk for repeat heart attacks, and death by heart disease by half. Research also shows that quitting smoking is key in the management of many contributors to heart attack. These include atherosclerosis, blood clots and abnormal heart rhythms.

To be successful, you should be mentally ready and relatively stress-free. Physically, you need to commit to exercising daily and getting plenty of sleep. A person trying to quit must overcome 2 obstacles: a physical addiction to nicotine and a habit. The National Cancer Institute offers these tips to help users quit using tobacco products:

  • Think about why you want to quit.

  • Pick a stress-free time to quit.

  • Ask for support and encouragement from family, friends, and co-workers.

  • Start doing some exercise or activity each day to relieve stress and improve your health.

  • Get plenty of rest.

  • Eat a balanced diet.

  • Join a smoking cessation program, or other support group.

  • Disconnect your activities of smoking and replace them with newer healthier activities.

In some cases, nicotine replacement products can help break a smoking habit. Nicotine replacement products continue to give smokers nicotine to meet their nicotine craving. However, nicotine replacement products do not contain the tars and toxic gases that cigarettes emit. Pregnant or nursing women and people with other medical conditions should consult with their healthcare provider before using any nicotine replacement products. Some examples of nicotine replacement products include:

  • Nicotine chewing gum. An over-the-counter chewing gum that releases small amounts of nicotine to help reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

  • Nicotine patch. An over-the-counter patch applied to the upper body once a day that releases a steady dosage of nicotine to help reduce the urge to smoke.

  • Nicotine inhaler or nose spray. A prescription nicotine replacement product that releases nicotine to help reduce withdrawal symptoms (requires a doctor's approval before use).

Medicines to help you quit smoking

  • Bupropion. This is a non-nicotine option to help people stop smoking. It is approved by the FDA. Offered in pill form to smokers who want to quit, bupropion has been shown to alter mood transmitters in the brain that are linked to addiction. Bupropion must be prescribed by a healthcare provider and may not be right for everyone. Ask your healthcare provider for more information.

  • Varenicline. This is also a non-nicotine pill to help you quit smoking. It is approved by the FDA. It targets the nicotine receptors in the brain. Varenicline attaches to the receptors and blocks nicotine from reaching them. This decreases the desire for nicotine. Varenicline may not be right for everyone.

Online Medical Reviewer: Fetterman, Anne, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Gandelman, Glenn, MD, MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2016
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