Smoking is most commonly associated with breathing problems and lung cancer, but did you know that smoking also is a major cause of heart disease? The National Center for Health Statistics reports an estimated 24.8 million men (23.1 percent) and 21.1 million women (18.3 percent) in the U.S. are smokers. These people are at higher risk of heart attack and stroke. About 20 percent of all deaths from heart disease in the U.S. are directly related to cigarette smoking.
February is American Heart Month and Ochsner wants you to understand the many facts about smoking's impact on your heart.
Because of the nicotine in cigarettes, smoking increases heart disease risk by:
- decreasing oxygen levels to the heart
- increasing blood pressure and heart rate
- increasing in blood clotting
- damaging cells that line coronary arteries and other blood vessels
Cigarette smoking alone increases the risk of coronary heart disease. But the risk dramatically escalates if smokers also suffer high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity or diabetes.
The longer and more you smoke, the more you increase your risk of heart disease and heart attack, according to the American Heart Association. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of suffering a heart attack than nonsmokers. Women who smoke and also take birth control pills increase several times their risk of heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.
Cigarette smoking is so widespread and significant as a risk factor for various health conditions that the Surgeon General has called it the leading preventable cause of disease and deaths in the United States. But the impact doesn't stop with you. As you have previously read in our articles, secondhand smoking can affect family, friends and co-workers just as much.
Secondhand smoke can cause chronic respiratory conditions, cancer, and heart disease. It is estimated that around 35,000 nonsmokers die from heart disease each year as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.
But it's never too late to quit. The risk of a heart attack decreases by half within two weeks of quitting smoking, the CDC reports. After 15 smoke-free years, the risk for someone who previously smoked declines to near that of someone who never has smoked. Here are just some of the ways quitting can change your life. If you quit smoking, you will:
- Prolong your life.
- Reduce your risk of heart disease and other health conditions.
- Feel healthier. After quitting, you won't cough as much, you'll have fewer sore throats and you will increase your stamina.
- Look better. Quitting can help you prevent face wrinkles, reduce stained teeth and improve your skin.
- Improve your sense of taste and smell.
- Save money.