Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. Many people do not realize that smoking not only affects your lungs and can cause lung disease and lung cancer but smoking also harms nearly every organ in the body, including the heart and blood vessels. Smoking is a major factor for heart disease and if you smoke, there are many benefits to quitting which will help protect your heart.
How is your heart affected by smoking?
Tobacco smoke impacts the heart and blood vessels in many ways. Cigarettes are filled with harmful chemicals, like carbon monoxide and nicotine, all of which contribute to the dangerous effects of smoking. Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas you inhale when you smoke, and it, along with the other chemicals breathed in when you smoke, damages your heart and blood vessels. Once in your lungs, the carbon monoxide and chemicals are transferred to your bloodstream, where they decrease the amount of oxygen that is carried in the red blood cells. Both the chemicals and carbon monoxide also contribute to the deposits of plaque buildup in your arteries. When plaque, a sticky substance, builds up inside your arteries, a common condition called atherosclerosis develops. This buildup of plaque causes your arteries to narrow. The narrowing of the arteries reduces the supply of oxygen-rich blood to vital organs in the body. The buildup of plaque and decreased oxygen in your blood can lead to a heart attack. Along with these findings, it is also known that cigarettes contain one of the most dangerous chemicals, nicotine. Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical which can cause an increase in blood pressure and heart rate while also decreasing the flow of blood to the heart and contributing to the narrowing of the arteries. Smoking also puts you at risk for blood clots as it damages the lining of the blood vessels, which can cause clots to form. Combining smoking with other risks factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or obesity increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Studies show that cigarette smokers are 2 to 4 times more likely to get heart disease than a non-smoker and smokers double their risk of having a stroke. There are many other ways smoking affects your body and is bad for you, but this alone should be enough to make you want to quit!
What happens to your heart once we quit?
According to the American Heart Association and the U.S. surgeon general, these are a few ways your body, particularly your heart, starts to recover when you quit smoking, some of which occur almost immediately:
- In the first 20 minutes: your blood pressure and heart rate recover from the nicotine-induced spikes.
- After 12 hours: the carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal.
- After two weeks: your circulation and lung function begin to improve.
- After one year: your risk of coronary heart disease is reduced by 50 percent.
- After 15 years: your risk of coronary heart disease is the same as a non-smoker’s.
Let’s get started with breaking the smoking habit!
Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your overall health. It is not easy, but it will be worth it! Nicotine is highly addictive, so it is important to be prepared and to enlist support. Think about your reasons for quitting and what will motivate you to quit for good. Have a support person or people with you on your journey. Some things that are motivating factors to quit could be: protecting your family from secondhand smoke, wanting to breathe better and to exercise without coughing, wanting to improve your cholesterol levels and improve your heart health, or wanting lower your risk of lung cancer. Once you make the commitment to quit, look at what will work best for you. Some people will choose to do it on their own by cutting back or stopping completely and immediately. It can be very difficult to quit “cold turkey” as smoking is an addiction, and when your brain is hooked on nicotine you may go through withdrawals when stopping it entirely. It is ok if you need to get additional support to help you quit for good. The good thing is there are many options for smoking cessation which include: nicotine replacement therapy, classes, apps, hypnosis, medication, and counseling.
Choose your method of quitting.
Talk to your doctor about quitting and decide if you will need medicines to help you with your process. You may choose to cut back on your own or use nicotine replacement therapy or prescription medications. Many people start by cutting down on the number of cigarettes they smoke each day. For example, if you smoke 20 cigarettes per day, gradually cut down to 10 for a few days, then 5 and so on until you are smoke free. Another method is to only smoke part of the cigarette, reducing the amount until you stop smoking completely. Count how many puffs you normally take from each cigarette, then reduce the amount every few days. Some people may choose to not quit this way and there is the option of nicotine replacements. Nicotine replacement therapy can help prevent withdrawal symptoms like headache, mood swings and low energy. Nicotine replacements can be bought over the counter and come in the form of lozenges, patches or gum. It is important to read the directions on these products as over time you will decrease your dosage to help lower your addiction to nicotine. There are also prescription medications that your doctor can prescribe which help decrease your urge to smoke and can help you quit. It is also important to also create healthy lifestyle
habits to replace your urge to smoke. Most people smoke to relax so think of other things that you can do such as going for a walk, listening to music, eating a healthy snack, connecting with nonsmoking friends to enjoy a new hobby, enjoy a cup of coffee or tea, and remembering to lean on your support person when needed.
Whichever method you choose, just remember there are plenty of resources available to get you started.
Many states have smoking cessation programs. The North American Quitline Consortium has each state listed and provides information on what is available in your state. Many states have free online programs, free phone counseling, email support, additional resources and may provide nicotine replacements.
You can find your state at this website and find the support programs available to you: NAQC Quitline Map (naquitline.org)
There are also national programs and quit help lines which can be found on the CDC website: Smoking and Tobacco Use | CDC
Making the commitment to quit can get you one step closer to being a healthier version of yourself.