Cigarette smoking and heart attack

Every time they take a puff from a cigarette, smokers inhale thousands of poisonous chemicals into their bodies.

These chemicals are drawn into the lungs with the smoke and from there pass into the bloodstream, which carries them throughout the body.

Some of the most frightening effects of this invasion happen in the heart and blood vessels. Toxins from cigarette smoke set off a handful of chemical and physical reactions that increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and speed up the disease process.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in American men and women, and according to the 2014 Surgeon General's report, smoking causes 32 percent of heart disease deaths.

According to major medical groups, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Cancer Society, the Surgeon General's Office and the American Heart Association (AHA), smoking cigarettes:

  • Makes blood vessels tighten up, narrowing the pathway for blood headed toward your heart.
  • Makes the heart beat faster and harder.
  • Increases blood pressure.
  • Reduces levels of HDL (high-density lipoproteins, or good cholesterol).
  • Damages the inner lining of blood vessels' walls. This type of vessel damage is also believed to be the first step in the development of artery disease.
  • Makes blood cells more likely to stick together and form clots that can block veins and arteries.
  • Interferes with the ability of blood cells to carry oxygen, reducing oxygen supply to tissues throughout the body.
  • Contributes to artery disease, which sets the stage for both heart attack and stroke.

The link between smoking and heart disease was first noted more than five decades ago, and the evidence has continued to mount since. Not only does smoking affect nearly all of the major risk factors for heart disease, but more recent research has shown that it also affects emerging risk factors, such as inflammation, tissue injury and blood clotting.

Fortunately, research also shows that when you stop smoking, your heart starts recovering almost immediately. As you stick to a nonsmoking lifestyle over weeks, months and years, the benefits to your heart and arteries keep building.

Within hours, you'll have more oxygen in your blood and your blood pressure will be lower. Within weeks your lung function improves. In one year, your increased risk of heart disease will be cut in half, according to the AHA. In 15 years, your risk for heart disease will decline nearly to that of someone who has never smoked. About five years into your smoke-free life, your risk of stroke will be similar to that of someone who has never smoked, according to the AHA.

If you smoke, talk to your doctor about getting help to quit. There are many treatments that can make quitting easier. And the payoff couldn't be better.

reviewed 1/7/2019

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