According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), which accounts for one in every three deaths caused due to CVD. The smoke harms almost every organ in the body from the lungs, liver, heart to the bones and reproductive organs. The effect of smoking on the lungs is well known but not many are aware of the fact that it can also lead to a heart attack. People who smoke are around 2-4 times more likely to suffer from heart disease. Moreover, exposure to secondhand smoke can increase the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke in nonsmokers.
What does smoking do to your heart?
According to the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health in the CDC, the risk of CVD increases with an increase in the number of cigarettes smoked per day. In fact, people who smoke less than five cigarettes a day are also at a high risk of CVD. Here is how cigarette smoke can affect your heart health.
The nicotine present in the smoke can impact the heart by:
– Reducing the oxygen supply to the organ
– Increasing the blood pressure
– Causing the blood vessels to become swollen and inflamed.
– Narrowing the blood vessels
– Increasing the tendency for the blood to clot
– Decreasing the tolerance to exercise
– Causing an increase in triglycerides and decrease HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or good cholesterol
According to a 2010 study, the prevalence of coronary heart disease (CHD) in Indians was found to be 42%. The chemicals present in cigarette smoke can put you at risk of various cardiovascular diseases such as:
Atherosclerosis: It is a condition in which the arteries become narrow due to the accumulation of cholesterol and fat, known as plaque, which builds up against the blood vessels. This also decreases the flexibility of the arteries and impacts the blood flow to various parts of the body. Tobacco smoke can lead to the formation of plaque and narrow down the blood vessels, thereby increasing the risk of atherosclerosis.
Coronary artery disease: This occurs when the arteries that carry blood to the heart muscle are narrowed due to the accumulation of plaque or blockage by clots. This is because when you smoke, the chemicals in cigarette cause thickening of the blood and formation of clots in the veins and arteries. This blocks the blood vessels and leads to heart attack.
Stroke: Cigarette smoking can impact the brain as well and increase the risk of stroke. This occurs when the blood flow to the brain is impaired leading to permanent brain damage and loss of brain function. People who smoke and have a history of heart disease are at a high risk of suffering from a stroke as compared to those who have never smoked or have quit smoking.
Does quitting smoking cut down the risk of CVD?
What many people are unaware of is the fact that smoking is one of the leading preventable causes of cardiovascular diseases and death (mortality). More than 50% of CAD associated deaths in India occur before the patient reaches the age of 50 years. The risk increases further in people who smoke. There other factors that can worsen the effects of smoking on the heart health such as age, gender, use of contraceptives, etc. But the adverse effects of cigarette smoke on the heart can be decreased if you quit smoking.
According to the World Health Organization(WHO), there are man heart health benefits of kicking the butt. The immediate effects of quitting smoking are:
– The heart rate and blood pressure drops within 20 minutes.
– The level of carbon monoxide in the blood drops to normal after an hour.
– The blood circulation improves within 2 – 12 weeks.
The long-term benefits of quit smoking are:
-The risk of coronary heart disease reduces by 50% as compared to that of a smoker’s after a year.
– Around 5 – 15 years after a person quits smoking, the risk of stroke is the same as that of a non-smoker.
-After 15 years of quitting smoking, the risk of suffering from coronary heart disease equals to that of a non-smoker.
– The chances of experiencing a second heart attack in people who already had a heart attack and quit smoking are reduced by 50%.
Moreover, if you are quitting smoking at around 30, 40, 50 and 60 years of age, then the chances of lowering the risk of health complications and improving life expectancy is improved by almost 10, 9, 6 and 3 years respectively.
This World Heart Day, let’s pledge to quit tobacco and smoking to prevent heart disease and stay healthy. 29th September is World Heart Day.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Sanjay BS, Consultant Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgeon Fortis Hospital, Cunningham Road and Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)
Fact sheet about health benefits of smoking cessation. Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI). World Health Organization.
Smoking and cardiovascular disease. The Surgeon General’s report Smoking and Health. 1964-2014.
Gopal DM, Kalogeropoulos AP, Georgiopoulou VV, et al. Cigarette smoking exposure and heart failure risk in older adults: the Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study. Am Heart J. 2012 Aug;164(2):236-42.
Mishra S, Joseph RA, Gupta PC, et al. Trends in bidi and cigarette smoking in India from 1998 to 2015, by age, gender and education. BMJ Glob Health. 2016 Apr 6;1(1):e000005.
Ardeshna DR, Bob-Manuel T, Nanda A, et al. Asian-Indians: a review of coronary artery disease in this understudied cohort in the United States. Ann Transl Med. 2018 Jan;6(1):12.