Everyone knows that cigarette smoking puts people at risk for a lot of dangerous conditions such as lung cancer, gum disease, stroke and cataracts. Smoking is also a leading risk factor for heart disease — the leading killer of men and women in the United States. Have you ever wondered how smoking affects your heart or how it puts you at risk for heart disease?
A chain reaction of dangerous events
The nicotine in cigarette smoke releases adrenalin, providing a quick shot of energy. But while you're enjoying that lift or “buzz”, your heart starts to work harder. Adrenalin increases your heart rate and constricts your arteries. Your blood pressure rises slightly, putting extra strain on your heart. The carbon monoxide attaches to the hemoglobin in your red blood cells, the space typically reserved for oxygen. Since the carbon monoxide competes with oxygen, less oxygen is transported around your body.
The chemicals in tobacco smoke speed the development of atherosclerosis. In this disease, damage to the blood vessels makes them less able to "relax." Smoking contributes to this by stiffening the artery walls, which can cause plaque to rupture and trigger the formation of a clot that can clog an artery. Smoking also speeds up the breakdown of lipids. This process increases blood clotting as well as the presence of inflammatory substances in the blood.
All of these events can have a toxic effect on the lining of the blood vessels. The arteries may become inflamed, and the damage to the inner lining of the arteries makes it easier for cholesterol and other fats to "stick" to the vessels. As a result, fatty deposits called plaque can pile up in the arteries causing them to harden. Cigarettes also lower the levels of HDL or "good" cholesterol, which helps clear artery-clogging LDL ("bad") cholesterol from the blood.
Over time, these negative effects from smoking take a toll on your heart, putting you at risk for heart disease. Many smokers are on a fast track to a heart attack as well. If plaque starts clogging the arteries that feed the heart — a condition known as coronary heart disease — the heart can become starved for oxygen. If an artery becomes completely clogged, part of the heart will shut down. This is when a heart attack happens.
To prevent all of this?
Quit smoking today! Wanting to quit for yourself and having a plan is the way to get started. The health benefits from quitting are almost immediate and can not only reduce your risk of heart disease, but can add years to your life. Quitting smoking is challenging but it can be done. Talk to your health care provider about proven techniques to help you get rid of your smoking habit as soon as possible.