Cardiovascular Disease and Smoking

Most individuals are aware of the breathing problems and risk of lung cancer related to cigarette smoking. What many are not aware of, is the fact that it can also cause a heart attack.

Research has established the relationship between cigarette smoking and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Smoking is considered one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.1

People who smoke have up to a threefold chance of death from cardiovascular disease compared to those who don’t smoke. The risk of CVD also increases with the increased duration of smoking and the number of cigarettes smoked per day.

Smoking cigarettes releases certain chemicals that can cause vessels of blood to stick together. This attracts the fatty material to stick to the vessels. If blood vessels that carry blood to the heart get clogged or damaged, it can cause a heart attack. If blood vessels that carry blood to the brain get clogged or damaged this can cause a stroke.

Cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals such as:
Nicotine 

This is an addictive drug that affects brain and muscle activity. It spikes your blood pressure, meaning your heart works harder to maintain regular circulation without the physiological need to do so.

Carbon Monoxide

This is a poisonous gas that replaces oxygen in your blood. It reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the red blood cells.

Tar 

This is a greasy cancerous substance that sticks to the lungs just like soot in a chimney. This makes it harder to breathe.

Types of Cardiovascular Disease Associated with Smoking:

Atherosclerosis 

This is where fatty deposits lead to the formation of plaque within the blood vessels which results in their narrowing and subsequent reduced blood flow.

Stroke

A stroke occurs when a clot blocks the blood vessel supplying blood to the brain. This can be potentially life-threatening as it prevents the brain from receiving the oxygen and nutrients it needs for survival.

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

PAD is due to the narrowing of blood vessels and decreased blood flow to the extremities, commonly to the lower legs. The condition can be difficult to diagnose but can eventually lead to serious complications if left untreated, including potential amputation.

Passive Smoking

Smoking cigarettes is also bad for the people around you. This is called second-hand smoking or passive smoking. It is a serious health hazard causing non-smokers at more risk of diseases through inhaling the smoke from others. Non-smokers who live with smokers have about a 30% increased chance of developing heart disease. 

Children and babies exposed to passive smoking are at risk of sudden unexplained death in infants (SUDI), pneumonia and asthma due to the exposure.2

How does stopping smoking help reduce your CVD risk?

The best thing one can do for their health is to give up smoking. Stopping will still reduce the risk of heart and circulatory diseases even if you’ve smoked for years. It’s never too late to stop. Noticeable beneficial effects seen immediately after giving up are:

  • Heart rate and blood pressure will start falling within the normal range.
  • There will be an improvement in your sense of smell and taste after 2-3 days.
  • Breathing and exercise will become easier after 2-12 weeks. 
  • Chances of having a heart attack will reduce to half after 1 year.
  • A reduced chance of getting lung cancer and other serious conditions such as emphysema.

How to stop smoking?

To stop successfully, one should be mentally prepared and anxiety-free. A commitment of daily exercise and plenty of sleep can help reduce anxiety. An individual trying to stop must overcome 2 obstacles: a physical addiction to nicotine, and the habit smoking plays in your daily routine. The National Cancer Institute offers some tips to help users give up using tobacco products:

  • Think about the reasons why you want to stop.
  • Ask for support as well as encouragement from your family, friends, co-workers and your healthcare provider(s).
  • Pick a stress-free time to give up.
  • Learn to recognise what may trigger you to restart and minimise these situations
  • You can start implementing physical activity into your daily lifestyle to relieve stress and improve your overall health.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Smoking can be replaced with new healthy habits. 
  • Join a smoking cessation program, and/or look for other support groups.

Products to support you in giving up smoking

Nicotine replacement products in some cases, can help break a smoking habit. These products help smokers meet their nicotine cravings but do not contain the tars and toxic gases that cigarettes emit. Some examples of nicotine replacement products include:

Nicotine chewing gum

An over-the-counter chewing gum that helps to reduce the nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

Nicotine patch

An over-the-counter patch applied usually to the shoulder that releases a slow dosage of nicotine to help reduce the urge to smoke.

Nicotine inhaler or nose spray

A prescribed nicotine replacement product that releases nicotine to help reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Medications to help you stop smoking

Bupropion

This is a non-nicotine prescribed option that helps people stop smoking. Bupropion has been shown to alter mood transmitters that are linked to addiction.

Varenicline

This is also a non-nicotine pill to help you stop smoking. It targets the nicotine receptors which are located in the brain. Varenicline attaches to these receptors and blocks nicotine from reaching them. This decreases the desire to smoke.

In Summary

No matter how much time you have spent smoking, if you are looking for a healthy lifestyle and a better quality of life, quitting is something to consider. 

It will not only save your health but also the health of those around you. With time, your risk of heart disease will reduce significantly and you will have more energy and a higher quality of life.

References:

  1. Centers, Center, N. and Office (2010). Cardiovascular Diseases. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53012/.
  2. John Hopkins Medicine. (2019). Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease. [online] Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/smoking-and-cardiovascular-disease.

Anjula Gahlot

Master of Science, Global Public Health and Policy, Queen Mary University of London

Activities and societies: Elected as IFMSA Subcommittee member, Students for Global Health Society, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry; Active Member of St. Johns Ambulance Society.

Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles.