Cigarettes contain more than 7,000 chemicals, and over 70 of these are linked to cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over 16 million Americans have a disease caused by smoking. Smoking greatly increases a person’s risk of contracting serious diseases, and smoking itself can cause its own issues.
It’s important to understand the risks of habits like smoking. We have outlined some severe results of cigarette smoking that can be prevented with lifestyle changes and proper care for the body.
How Does Smoking Affect Your Heart?
Carbon monoxide and nicotine are the two chemicals that affect your cardiovascular system due to smoking. When high levels of carbon monoxide enter the bloodstream at a concentration above 1%, individuals may experience an increased heart rate and reduced tolerance to exercise. Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical in cigarettes and tobacco products. It can raise your blood pressure, increase your heart rate and harden arteries.
The heart is the main muscle in the cardiovascular system, and cigarette smoking poses many risks to your heart health. Almost 8 million people in the United States have a heart attack every year, and cigarette smoking is a major cause. The substances in cigarettes can reduce blood flow to and from the heart. Heart attacks occur when a part of the heart muscle dies or is damaged from a lack of oxygen.
Heart failure can be caused by heart attacks, high blood pressure and heart valve problems — all of which may result from or be exacerbated by smoking. When the heart is unable to fill in or pump blood how it needs to, the rest of the body’s needs may not be met.
Effects of Smoking on the Arteries
The arteries are major blood vessels that transport blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Cigarette smoking increases the formation of plaque — a waxy substance made of cholesterol, scar tissue, calcium, fat and other materials in the body — in blood vessels. As plaque collects in the arteries, it becomes much more difficult for blood to pass through the vessels. Plaque buildup can lead to a disease called atherosclerosis. People with this condition are at a much higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Atherosclerosis most commonly causes peripheral artery disease. Arteries that deliver blood to the legs, arms, stomach and head narrow, causing a lack of blood circulation. As the oxygen supply in these areas decreases, symptoms like pain, coldness, sores, low pulse and hair loss in affected areas may arise. All of these signs indicate a case of peripheral artery disease.
Coronary heart disease, or coronary artery disease, is a condition also caused by plaque buildup. As the arteries narrow from plaque buildup, clots can form in veins and arteries. Smoking is a primary cause of this disease because it makes blood more likely to clot, damages cells lining the arteries and raises triglycerides, a type of fat in the body. Coronary artery disease can cause heart attacks, heart failure, chest pain, arrhythmia and stroke.
Narrowed or blocked arteries may also lead to vascular dementia, which is caused by limited blood flow in or to the brain. Strokes most commonly cause this issue, and stroke risk greatly increases when blood flow is limited. Vascular dementia involves difficulty with reasoning, remembering and planning. The symptoms may vary depending on the area of the brain most directly impacted.
The capillaries are blood vessels that connect small arteries and veins. These connections allow for water, oxygen, carbon dioxide and other nutrients to be exchanged between the blood and surrounding tissues. Nicotine causes blood vessels, like the capillaries, to constrict, making the heart work harder to push blood through these narrower vessels to circulate blood through the body. The result is increased blood pressure.
In addition to heart failure and heart attack, high blood pressure increases the risk of an aneurysm. When a blood vessel wall weakens — a potential result of smoking cigarettes — blood can collect and form a bulge. As blood continues passing through the area, the balloon-like collection of blood expands. A ruptured aneurysm can be life-threatening.
How Smoking Affects Other Parts of Your Body
Smoking affects many parts of your body other than the heart — the respiratory system can sustain serious damage and disease from cigarette smoking. Tuberculosis, a common bacterial infection that grows in the lungs, is much more common among smokers. The effects of this infection are also more likely to be deadly for smokers.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the third-largest killer in the United States. Cigarette smoking injures the lungs and damages airways, and COPD kills slowly as an inpidual dies from insufficient amounts of oxygen.
Cigarette smoking also puts the brain at a high risk of stroke. Strokes result from parts of the brain becoming damaged or dying altogether. This damage is caused by a lack of oxygen, which may be produced by blocked or clotted arteries. Blood vessels may burst and cause serious effects in the brain. Strokes can cause permanent physical and mental disability or death.
Cancer is another serious risk that becomes more likely in inpiduals who smoke regularly. The thousands of chemicals in cigarette smoke severely weaken the body’s immune system. Without a strong immune system, the body can’t kill cancer cells, which grow rapidly without inhibition. Additionally, smoke can damage cell DNA, which alters a cell’s functions and may cause it to grow out of control into a tumor.
Smoking also affects fertility and can cause serious issues for a newborn baby. Small birth size, damage to lung and brain development, birth defects and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) are all much higher risks among children whose parents smoked during pregnancy. Premature birth is also very common, which includes a low birth weight, difficulty feeding, breathing challenges and sensory issues relating to hearing and eyesight. The last thing a new mother wants is for their child to be stuck in the hospital for months.
Consult With a Cardiologist Today
Diseases and deaths caused by smoking are preventable. Quitting smoking provides immediate beneficial effects — the body wants time to repair itself and can do so if given the chance. When toxic chemicals are not continually running through blood vessels and causing damage, the cells can regenerate and repair some of the issues caused by cigarette smoking.
Modern Heart and Vascular wants to help you restore your heart health. Our modern technology and preventative approach prioritize patient care above everything else. We aim to avoid unnecessary surgeries, and we explain each step of every process to ensure you know exactly what’s going on with your body and why certain steps are necessary. If you are interested in receiving cardiovascular care, please call us at 832-644-8930 or fill out our contact form. If you’d like to learn more about our practice, read our providers’ bios.
This article does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need cardiovascular care, please call us at 832-644-8930.