If you’ve considered the negative effects of smoking, you know it takes a bite out of your wallet, leaves a lingering odor on your clothing, yellows teeth and nails, and increases your risk of cancer. Don’t forget, however, that smoking can also greatly increase your chances of heart disease, whose effects may be invisible until the disease has progressed so far that it’s too late to reverse.
Coronary heart disease, a form of cardiovascular disease, is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, the CDC estimates that smoking puts you at four times the risk of developing heart disease, compared to non-smokers. And according to the National Cancer Institute, people who smoke are up to six times more likely to suffer a heart attack.
While you may know that smoking can cause lung cancer, the negative effects of this bad habit are much more far-reaching. Smoking and tobacco use can lead to a variety of diseases and health disorders, while reducing the general health of regular smokers. In addition, smoking has been shown to cause damage to nearly every organ of your body, including your heart.
The good news is that cigarette smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). In other words, learning more about the connection between smoking and heart disease—and quitting as soon as possible—can be a life-saving move.
How does smoking cause heart disease?
Smoking can cause the lining of your arteries to deteriorate, the walls of your arteries to thicken, and fat and plaque deposits to block blood flow through your arteries. The build-up of fatty substances in your arteries is called atherosclerosis. When the arteries that supply blood to your heart become narrowed, the supply of oxygen-rich blood to your heart decreases, which can lead to coronary heart disease. Narrowed arteries can be particularly dangerous during physical activity. The extra strain on the heart can lead to chest pain or, in the case of complete artery blockage, a heart attack.
What increases risk of heart attack?
No amount of smoking is considered “safe” and the more cigarettes you smoke, the greater your risk of heart attack. Smoking on its own is a risk factor for both heart disease and heart attack, but when smoking is paired with the following factors, your risk increases even more:
- family history of heart disease
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
- being physically inactive, overweight, or obese
In women who smoke and take birth control pills, the risk of heart disease goes up. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), studies show that women who use high-dose birth control pills (oral contraceptives) are at greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Many oral contraceptives already carry a risk of blood clots, and smoking greatly increases this risk by making it easier for blood clots to form.
Can secondhand smoke cause heart disease?
Even secondhand smoke can cause heart problems, depending on the regularity of your exposure. The AHA reports that there is a clear link between secondhand smoke (smoke that you as a bystander inhale by being near someone else who is smoking) and cardiovascular disease.
Those regularly exposed to smoke increase their risk of developing heart disease by up to 30 percent and nearly 40,000 people die each year from heart and blood vessel disease caused by secondhand smoke. So quitting doesn’t just help you—it also helps those around you. And if you live or spend a lot of time with someone else who smokes, here’s just another reason to try to help him or her (or them) to quit.
How can I prevent heart disease?
Diet and exercise are important factors in keeping your blood circulating well and your heart healthy. But if you’re a smoker, a healthy diet and regular exercise alone won’t protect you from the far-reaching effects of smoking, including heart disease.
If you’re a smoker, you can take steps to control or prevent future heart disease by quitting smoking now.
Slowly decreasing the number of cigarettes you smoke can lower your risk of heart problems. Try cutting back the number of cigarettes you smoke each day, then set a quit date. You’ll look better, feel better, and may even live longer. If you’re exposed to secondhand smoke on a regular basis, you can decrease your risk of heart disease by avoiding environments where others are smoking.
Quitting smoking cuts your risk in half for repeat heart attacks and death from heart disease, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Take the next step: improve your health to prolong your life.