Most of us know smoking is an unhealthy habit for our lungs, but it’s equally as detrimental to our heart health as well. Studies show smokers are four times more likely to die of heart disease and three times more likely to die from sudden cardiac death, according to the Heart Foundation.
Kelli Bitner, Family Nurse Practitioner at Prowers Medical Center, said smoking puts individuals at an increased risk for cardiopulmonary conditions and respiratory infections, and it also decreases one’s ability to sustain physical activity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and is the contributing factor for one out of every four CVD-related deaths. Killing more than 800,000 individuals each year, CVD is the largest cause of death in the U.S. Cardiovascular conditions include Atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, stroke, Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) and abdominal aortic aneurisms.
Smoking Risks to Your Heart, Blood Vessels
Cigarette smoking is the most preventable cause of death and illness in the U.S., according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NIH).
When you breathe in cigarette smoke, the more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke contaminate your bloodline and are harmful to your blood cells. Even those around you can be affected through secondhand smoke exposure. Any amount of smoking is damaging to your heart and blood vessels, but especially for women who use birth control pills and those who have diabetes.
“Smoking causes vasoconstriction, which means that your vessels tighten up. Repeated vasoconstriction causes damage to your arteries,” Bitner explained. “Smoking increases your blood pressure and heart rate, which significantly increases the workload on the heart. All of this can ultimately result in cardiovascular disease and an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke.”
The NIH reports these harmful chemicals can thicken your blood and make it difficult for your blood to carry oxygen, and can also contribute to inflammation, which triggers plaque buildup in the arteries.
“If you smoke, you will damage your heart and lungs – two extremely vital organs in your body,” Bitner said.
Benefits of Quitting
If you’re looking to lower your risk for CVD, the best thing you can do is avoid tobacco smoke. If you don’t currently smoke, don’t start, and try to avoid areas and places where you will have exposure to secondhand smoke. If you currently smoke, no matter the length, you’ll find many benefits to quitting.
Quitting smoking has proven to have long-term benefits. According to a study by Harvard Medical School, smokers who quit by the age of 35 eliminated nearly all health-related risks they would have encountered if they continued to smoke. On the flip side, those who picked up the habit in adulthood and did not quit, lost about a decade of their life.
Smoking cessation also greatly reduces the risk of recurrent heart attacks and CVD-related deaths — by up to 50 percent, according to the NIH.
Strategies to Quit
The number one method to preventing heart health affected by smoking is also the most obvious: to quit.
Get motivated and set a quit date. Ask your friends and family for support. Try to replace your urge to smoke with a healthy habit, such as physical activity.
Bitner said the number one resource Prowers Medical Center utilizes for smokers is the Colorado Quitline. This organization provides excellent support and free resources for smokers who utilize their quitting services.
“Quitting now can prevent a lifetime of complications that pile on top of each other over time,” Bitner concluded.
On top of smoking cessation, other habits to form for a heart-healthy lifestyle include a healthy diet, a healthy weight, stress management and regular physical activity.
For more information on how to quit smoking, go to coquitline.org or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669). To schedule an appointment with a Primary Care Provider at Prowers Medical Center to learn about how smoking could be affecting your heart health, call 719-336-6767 or go to prowersmedical.com.