Smoking and Your Heart Smoking Risks
The chemicals in tobacco smoke harm your blood cells. They also can damage how your heart works. These same chemicals may damage how well your blood vessels work and even damage their structure. Tobacco smoke impacts the heart and blood vessels in many ways.
- Contributes to , which may cause more plaque buildup in your arteries.
- Damages blood vessel walls, making the walls stiff and less stretchy or elastic. That makes the blood vessels narrow.
- Disturbs normal heart rhythms.
- Increases blood pressure and heart rate, making your heart work harder than normal.
- Lowers your HDL (“good”) cholesterol and raises your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Smoking also increases your triglyceride level. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood.
- Thickens your blood and makes it harder for your blood to carry oxygen.
Smoking and Heart Disease Risk
The chemicals you breathe in when you smoke damage your heart and blood vessels in ways that increase the chances you will develop atherosclerosis. This increases your risk of having and dying from heart disease, heart failure, or a heart attack long term.
Atherosclerosis is when a waxy substance (plaque) builds up in the arteries. Over time, that plaque hardens and narrows these blood vessels. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs, including your heart, and other parts of your body.
Smoking is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, a condition that happens when that plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. These arteries supply your heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood, which it needs to keep working properly.
The buildup of plaque also makes it more likely that blood clots form in your arteries. Blood clots can partially or completely block blood flow.
In short, smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. Compared with nonsmokers, people who smoke are more likely to get heart disease or have a heart attack.
Smoking’s risks also impact your risk factors in other ways.
- If you already have other risk factors for heart disease, like unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and overweight or obesity, smoking makes it much more likely that you will develop it.
- If you already have heart disease, your risk for having a heart attack or dying from one is even higher if you smoke too.
- If you are a woman who uses birth control pills or if you have diabetes, smoking poses a greater risk of heart and blood vessel damage.
Smoking and Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is when plaque builds up in the arteries that carry blood to your head, organs, and limbs.
PAD usually affects the arteries that carry blood to your legs. Blocked blood flow from PAD in the arteries of your arms and legs can cause several things to happen.
- You may have cramping, pain, weakness, and numbness in your hips, thighs, and calf muscles if leg arteries are blocked.
- There is an increased risk of infection in a limb affected by a blood blockage, and your body may have a hard time fighting the infection.
- Gangrene, or the death of tissue in the affected area, may also occur. In very serious cases, this can lead to the need to amputate, or remove, the affected limb.
Smoking is a major risk factor for PAD. Even one or two cigarettes smoked in a day can interfere with PAD treatments.
People who smoke and people with diabetes are at highest risk for PAD complications, including gangrene in the leg from decreased blood flow.
Secondhand Smoke Risks
Secondhand smoke is the smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe. It is also the term for smoke that is breathed out by someone who is smoking.
Secondhand smoke contains many of the same harmful chemicals that people inhale when they smoke. It can damage the heart and blood vessels of people who don’t smoke in the same way that smoking harms people who do.
For adults, secondhand smoke greatly increases your risk of heart attack and death.
For children and teens, secondhand smoke raises the risk of coronary heart disease in the future because over time it:
- Damages heart tissues
- Lowers cholesterol
- Raises blood pressure
The risks of secondhand smoke are especially high for premature babies who have respiratory distress syndrome and children who have conditions such as asthma.