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How Smoking Affects Your Heart


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 around 16 million Americans have a disease caused by smoking. Smoking significantly increases a person’s risk of contracting serious diseases, and smoking itself can generate issues.

It’s essential 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 blood pressure, improve heart rate, and harden arteries.

The heart is the primary 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 significant 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 attacks can cause heart failure, high blood pressure, and heart valve problems — all of which may result from or be exacerbated by smoking. When the heart cannot 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 ship. 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, generating 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 also caused by plaque buildup. Clots can form in veins and arteries as the arteries narrow from plaque buildup. 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, caused by limited blood flow in or to the brain. Strokes most commonly cause this issue, and stroke risk dramatically 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 exchange water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other nutrients 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 passes through the area, the balloon-like blood collection 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 severe 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 individual 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 severe effects on the brain. Strokes can induce permanent physical and mental disability or death.

Cancer is another serious risk that becomes more likely in individuals who smoke regularly. The thousands of chemicals in cigarette smoke severely weaken the body’s immune system. Without a robust immune system, the body can’t kill cancer cells, which multiply 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 severe issues for a newborn baby. Small birth size, damage to lung and brain development, congenital disabilities, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) are all much higher risks among children whose parents smoked during pregnancy. Premature birth is also widespread, 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.

How does smoking affect the risk of heart attack and stroke in individuals who are light smokers or only smoke occasionally?

Even individuals who are light smokers or only smoke occasionally are at an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. The chemicals present in cigarettes can still cause damage to the heart and blood vessels, leading to the development of cardiovascular diseases.

How does secondhand smoke affect the risk of chronic breathing problems in children?

Secondhand smoke exposure is linked to an increased risk of chronic breathing problems in children. Inhalation of secondhand smoke can cause respiratory issues such as asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia, which can have long-term effects on lung health. Children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

What health risks are associated with peripheral vascular disease (disease in the vessels that supply blood to the arms and legs)?

Smoking dramatically increases the risk of peripheral vascular disease, which is a disease in the vessels that supply blood to the arms and legs. This condition can lead to reduced blood flow, pain, and potential complications in the affected limbs.

How does smoking affect heart rate, major arteries, and heart rhythm?

Smoking increases heart rate, tightens major arteries, and can cause an irregular heart rhythm. These effects strain the heart and make it harder to pump blood throughout the body.

How does smoking affect cholesterol levels and levels of fibrinogen?

Smoking has been shown to affect cholesterol levels and levels of fibrinogen. It can lead to unfavorable changes in cholesterol profiles, such as decreasing “good” cholesterol levels and increasing “bad” cholesterol levels. Smoking also affects the levels of fibrinogen, a blood-clotting material, which can contribute to a higher risk of blood clots.

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Modern Heart and Vascular, a preventive cardiology medical practice, has several offices around Houston. We have locations in Humble, Cleveland, The Woodlands, Katy, and Livingston.

We are Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, a diagnostic and preventative medicine cardiology practice.

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At the Modern Heart and Vascular Institute, we offer state-of-the-art cardiovascular care with innovative diagnostic tools and compassionate patient care. Our priority at Modern Heart and Vascular Institute is prevention. We help patients lead healthier lives by avoiding unnecessary procedures and surgeries.

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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.

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