Cigarette smoking is the main preventable cause of death and illness in many parts of the world. Any amount of smoking, even occasional smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can harm nearly every organ in the body, including the heart, blood vessels, lungs, eyes, mouth, reproductive organs, bones, bladder, and digestive organs.
Here we look at how smoking affects the heart and blood vessels. The chemicals in tobacco smoke harm your blood cells, damage the structure and function of your heart and blood vessels, and increase the risk of atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is a disease in which a waxy substance called plaque that builds up in the arteries and over time hardens and narrows your arteries, reducing the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of the body.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) occurs if plaque builds up in the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart. Over time, CHD can lead to chest pain, heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmias, or even death.
Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. When combined with other risk factors—such as unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and overweight or obesity—smoking further raises the risk of heart disease.
Smoking also is a major risk factor for peripheral artery disease (PAD), a condition in which plaque builds up builds up in the arteries carrying blood to the head, organs, and limbs. People who have PAD are at increased risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Secondhand smoke, which comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar or pipe and also from the tobacco smoke exhaled by a smoker, can harm the heart and blood vessels. Secondhand smoke contains many of the same harmful chemicals that people inhale when they smoke and can damage the heart and blood vessels of people who do not smoke. This smoke also raises children’s risk of future CHD.
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of heart disease is to avoid tobacco smoke. Do not start smoking; if you already smoke, then quit right now. No matter how much or how long you have smoked, quitting will benefit you. Quitting smoking will reduce your risk of developing and dying from heart disease. Over time, quitting also will lower your risk of atherosclerosis and blood clots.
The tobacco industry will encourage you to keep smoking by portraying your decision to smoke as a free choice. Do not be blinded by this glib and insidious argument. The nicotine present in tobacco is a highly addictive drug, which means that once you are addicted to it, your choice is no longer free; you feel compelled to keep smoking and this increases profit for the tobacco industry.
Quitting smoking is possible, but it can be hard. Millions of people have quit smoking successfully and remained nonsmokers.