Section: Barnabas Health Heart Center News

Smoking and Heart Disease: The Facts

11/20/2014

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), diseases caused by smoking kill more than 440,000 people in the United States each year. Even with antismoking campaigns and medical disclaimers in place, many people continue to smoke or start smoking every year. Smokers not only have increased risk for lung disease, including lung cancer and emphysema, stroke and oral cancer, but also have increased risk for heart disease.

Smoking, in addition to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes, tops the list as a primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease. In fact, smoking has been classified as the single most preventable cause of premature death in the United States.

Facts about smoking and cardiovascular disease

  • One out of every five smoking-related deaths is caused by cardiovascular disease.
  • Cigarette smoking produces a greater risk for coronary heart disease in people younger than age 50.
  • Women older than age 35 who smoke and take oral contraceptives are at much greater risk of developing a cardiovascular disease or stroke than women who do not smoke while taking oral contraceptives.
  • Cigarette smokers are two to four times more likely to develop coronary heart disease, or CHD, than nonsmokers.
  • Cigarette smoking doubles a person's risk for stroke.
  • Cigarette smokers are more than 10 times as likely as nonsmokers to develop peripheral vascular disease, or PVD.

How does smoking affect the cardiovascular system?

In posing health risks on the body's cardiovascular system, smoking:

  • Causes immediate and long-term increases in blood pressure.
  • Causes immediate and long-term increases in heart rate.
  • Reduces cardiac output and coronary blood flow.
  • Reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches the body's tissues.
  • Changes the properties of blood vessels and blood cells—allowing cholesterol and other fatty substances to build up.
  • Contributes to higher blood pressure and increased risk for blood clot formation.
  • Damages blood vessels.
  • Doubles the risk of ischemic stroke (reduced blood flow to the brain).
  • Stimulates the blood clotting process.
  • Has been associated with depression and psychological distress.

Why it's Important to Quit Smoking

According to the AHA, eliminating smoking not only reduces the risk for coronary heart disease, but also reduces the risk for repeat heart attacks and death by heart disease by half. Research also indicates that smoking cessation is crucial in the management of many contributors to heart attack, including atherosclerosis, thrombosis, coronary artery disease and cardiac arrhythmias.

Quitting smoking is both a mental and a physical undertaking. Mentally, you should be ready and relatively stress-free. Physically, you need to commit to exercising daily and getting plenty of sleep. A person trying to quit must overcome two obstacles: a physical addiction to nicotine and a habit. For information and support, contact the New Jersey Quitline at 866-NJSTOPS or njquitline.org.

For a referral to a RWJBarnabas Health primary care physician or cardiologist, call 1-888-724-7123 or visit barnabashealth.org/physician-directory.

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