Smoking makes a major contribution to cardiovascular disease (CVD), causing deterioration of the system that keeps the heart working and blood circulating smoothly. Smoking causes thirty percent of cardiovascular deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart attack is the most common cause of death in the United States and more than 800,000 people die from cardiovascular disease each year, while 16 million Americans have heart disease.
How smoking damages the heart
Nicotine in cigarettes raises blood pressure, increases heart rate and constricts the arteries throughout the body. This constriction narrows the opening of the arteries, making it harder for the heart to pump blood through them. This also causes the body to release its stores of fat and cholesterol into the blood, resulting in more plaque buildup on the artery walls.
Smoking not only accelerates the hardening and narrowing of arteries with plaque, but also increases risk of developing blood clots because it makes blood thicker. This puts smokers at a much higher risk for stroke, heart attack, and limb loss.
Cardiovascular problems caused by smoking
Smoking causes a number specific problems relating to the cardiovascular system. It is one of the leading risk factors associated with peripheral vascular disease or PVD, which can result in narrowing of blood vessels. PVD, also called peripheral artery disease, is a serious condition that often reveals itself through pain in the legs or other extremities. When the flow of blood is limited, limbs, the heart and brain are deprived of the oxygen. Bleeding into the artery wall can also occur resulting in formation of a clot, which narrows the opening of the blood vessel even further.
Additionally, smoking accelerates high blood pressure and stroke probability because it increases triglycerides. These excess fat cells in blood vessels restrict the amount of oxygen the blood needs to carry throughout the body. HDL, or “good” cholesterol, is also lowered. HDL helps keep arteries clear. All of these factors combine to add up to atherosclerosis.
When the arteries that carry blood to the heart are blocked by plaque or blood clots, coronary artery disease may occur. Thickened blood and clots causes by chemicals in cigarette stroke increase this possibility and may result in a heart attack that can be fatal.
Smoking also increases the risk of stroke which can cause permanent brain damage or death.
Smokers are more likely to die from stroke than those who don’t smoke or who have kicked the habit.
The risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm is also increased dramatically by smoking. The aorta is a large artery that carries blood through the abdomen to the legs. An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a bulging or ballooning in a weakened wall of the lower part of the aorta. As an aneurysm enlarges, the walls of the aorta stretch making them much thinner. The aortic aneurysm eventually reaches a point where it loses its ability to stretch any further. At this point, without any treatment, it may rupture causing potentially fatal bleeding.
Ways to stop smoking
Behavioral changes and intense willpower can go far in helping to stop smoking. Setting a stop-date, avoiding situations that might encourage smoking and letting friends and family know how important it is to quit all help.
Beyond behavioral steps, therapies utilizing nicotine inhalers, patches or gum designed to systematically wean the body of the desire for nicotine may be prescribed.
Medication is also available. Buproprion should be started two weeks prior to the planned quit date and can be used in conjunction with other nicotine replacement therapy. Another medication, Varenicline (Chantix),reduces nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
To learn more about the impact smoking and ways to quit, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.