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The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women

Major Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Smoking is "the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women who smoke are two to six times more likely to suffer a heart attack than nonsmoking women, and the risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked each day. Smoking can also shorten a healthy life, because smokers are likely to suffer a heart attack or other major heart problem at least 10 years sooner than nonsmokers. Smoking also raises the risk of stroke.

But heart disease and stroke are not the only health risks for women who smoke. Smoking greatly increases the chances that a woman will develop lung cancer. In fact, the lung cancer death rate for women is now higher than the death rate for breast cancer. Cigarette smoking also causes many other types of cancer, including cancers of the mouth, urinary tract, kidney, and cervix. Smoking also causes most cases of chronic obstructive lung disease, which includes bronchitis and emphysema.

If you smoke indoors, the "secondhand smoke" from your cigarettes can cause heart disease, lung cancer, and other serious health problems in the nonsmokers around you. According to a recent report from the U.S. Surgeon General, exposure to smoke at home or work increases a nonsmoker's risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent. Secondhand smoke is especially harmful to infants and young children, causing breathing problems, ear infections, asthma attacks, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Currently, about 20 percent of American women are smokers. In addition, 26 percent of high school seniors smoke at least one cigarette per month. In young people, smoking can interfere with lung growth and causes more frequent and severe respiratory illnesses, in addition to increasing heart disease and cancer risks. The younger people start smoking, the more likely they are to become strongly addicted to nicotine.

There is simply no safe way to smoke. Low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes do not lessen the risks of heart disease or other smoking-related diseases. The only safe and healthful course is not to smoke at all. (For tips on how to quit, see "You Can Stop Smoking".)

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Last Updated: February 29, 2012

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