Coronary Heart Disease and Smoking

What is coronary heart disease?

The heart, which pumps blood through the whole body, gets its blood supply through the coronary arteries. In some people, a fatty material called atheroma can build up inside your coronary arteries over time. This process is referred to as atherosclerosis. Eventually, your arteries may become so narrow that they struggle to get enough oxygen-rich blood to your heart. This phenomenon is referred to as Coronary heart disease, which happens when your heart's blood supply becomes blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances in the coronary arteries. 

Coronary heart disease can be caused by a variety of life factors, such as smoking or regularly drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Some people may also be at an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease because of pre-existing conditions. 

Coronary heart disease develops slowly over time. Similarly, the symptoms show up gradually and can be different for everyone - some people may not have any symptoms before coronary heart disease is diagnosed. Some of the main symptoms of coronary heart disease include:

  • Chest pain, otherwise known as angina.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Feeling faint.
  • Intermittent or chronic pain throughout the body.
  • Feeling nausea.

Smoking is a risk factor for coronary heart disease

Several risk factors can increase your chances of developing coronary heart disease. For example, having high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, or diabetes can all increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease. However, smoking is one of the leading risk factors for coronary heart disease - smoking regularly greatly increases your chances of developing coronary heart disease.1

What does smoking do to the heart?

Smoking tobacco affects nearly every single organ in the body to some extent. It can cause various health risks and complications. In fact, smoking has an effect on the entire cardiovascular system, including the heart, blood, and blood vessels. Chemicals in cigarette smoke cause the cells that line blood vessels to become swollen and inflamed.2 This narrows the blood vessels and can lead to different cardiovascular conditions in the long term. 

As mentioned, atherosclerosis is the main mechanism behind coronary heart disease. In atherosclerosis, the arteries become narrow due to a buildup of plaque. This plaque blocks the blood flow decreasing the amount of oxygen-rich blood that reaches your heart, but atherosclerosis also causes inflammation. Cigarette smoke worsens atherosclerosis by increasing inflammation, which promotes cholesterol and plaque buildup that continues accumulating in the arteries.3 Furthermore, smoking causes hypertension, which also increases the risk of atherosclerosis as high blood pressure places extra strain on the arteries. 

Tips for quitting smoking

Studies show that quitting smoking improves your health and reduces your risk of heart disease, cancer, lung disease and other smoking-related illnesses. However, quitting smoking can prove to be difficult. Many people try to quit smoking with willpower alone, but it's much easier to quit with the right help. There is a lot of support available - it’s just a matter of finding a solution that works for you. The following are some tips that can help you quit smoking:

  • List your reasons to quit.
  • Inform other people that you're quitting.
  • Use stop-smoking aids, such as nicotine patches. 
  • Have a plan if you are tempted to smoke, such as distracting yourself with an activity or exercising. 
  • Write down your smoking triggers and think about how to avoid them.
  • Join the support groups online or in person for support and advice.

When to contact a doctor

Coronary heart disease puts you at greater risk of having a heart attack. If a piece of atheroma breaks off the artery wall, it can cause a blood clot to form. This clot can then block your coronary artery, eventually cutting off the supply of blood and oxygen to your heart muscle. In other words, you experience a heart attack. For this reason, it’s best to call your doctor or 999 if you feel sudden intense chest pain running down your left arm or you experience sudden intense dizziness. 


In conclusion, heart disease refers to a variety of conditions that affect the heart’s structure and how it works. Coronary heart disease is a type of heart disease in which your coronary arteries, the arteries of the heart, cannot carry enough oxygen-rich blood to your heart. Certain factors can increase your risk of developing coronary heart disease. Smoking is one of the most common risk factors. Healthy lifestyle changes can help lower your risk of developing coronary heart disease. In this case, quitting smoking can be extremely beneficial. However, quitting smoking can be difficult, which is why it’s important to know all the support options that are available and find a solution that works for you.


  1. Inoue T. Cigarette Smoking as a Risk Factor of Coronary Artery Disease and its Effects on Platelet Function. Tob Induc Dis. 2004;2(1):2. Published 2004 Mar 15. 
  2.  Salehi N, Janjani P, Tadbiri H, Rozbahani M, Jalilian M. Effect of cigarette smoking on coronary arteries and pattern and severity of coronary artery disease: a review. J Int Med Res. 2021;49(12):3000605211059893.
  3. Vander Zwaag R, Lemp GF, Hughes JP, Ramanathan KB, Sullivan JM, Schick EC, Mirvis DM. The effect of cigarette smoking on the pattern of coronary atherosclerosis. A case-control study. Chest. 1988 Aug;94(2):290-5.

Imogen Scott

Postgraduate Degree, Neuroscience, Goldsmiths, University of London

Imogen Scott, based in London, is deeply rooted in mental health and healthcare. Serving as an Account Executive at Silver Buck, she emphasizes digital health innovations. Previously, she showcased her commitment as a Medical Writer Intern at Klarity and supported students with special needs at Charlton Park Academy. With a Bachelor's in Psychology and an ongoing Neuroscience postgrad from Goldsmiths, Imogen is a blend of academic and professional passion in health. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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. 
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