Smoking and Its Effects on the Cardiovascular System
There’s no shortage of information regarding smoking and your health. Not only do cigarette packs let you know how bad it can be, but there’s no shortage of anti-smoking and smoking cessation ads on TV and elsewhere. Most of the messaging revolves around the very clear and outward signs of smoking including lung cancer and breathing problems such as COPD. However, smoking also wreaks havoc on the circulatory and cardiovascular system.
When you dig a little deeper and learn more about how smoking affects the cardiovascular system, you can immediately see why it is so detrimental.
- Smoking constricts blood vessels, including arteries. this can cause several risk factors that can eventually lead to cardiovascular issues. First is high blood pressure. Not only does the heart have to pump harder, but there is more pressure against the walls of the arteries. This can lead to arterial damage and the buildup of plaque on the artery walls known as atherosclerosis. In addition to arterial issues, the lowered blood flow can make it more difficult to fight off infections and even recover after surgery. Diabetics are also at greater risk of complications as a result.
- Smoking can cause Atrial fibrillation or Afib. Cardiac arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats, most especially Afib are known to increase the risk of heart attacks, stroke and heart failure. A little-known outpouching of the heart known as the left atrial appendage often pools with thickened blood in patients with Afib. If these blood clots break off and travel to the brain, they can cause a stroke. The uncoordinated beating of the heart during Afib can also cause long term heart failure as the heart works harder to pump blood throughout the body.
- Smoking can cause plaque formation in the arteries. The formation and hardening of these plaques in the arteries can cause a lack of blood flow to the heart, which eventually can lead to a heart attack. They can also cause peripheral arterial disease or PAD which often leads to reduced blood flow in the legs, causing pain and eventually disability. If any plaque formations were to break off and travel to the brain, this could cause a stroke
The Myth That It Is Too Late to Quit Smoking
It is true that even occasional smokers do damage to their bodies, and some of this damage is permanent. However, it is never too late to quit smoking. In fact, the body begins to repair itself within days or weeks. By quitting, you reduce your risk of having a heart attack, heart failure and stroke significantly. You can also lower your risk of major complications during and after surgery to. To put it in perspective, you eliminate added risk of stroke after five years of not smoking and eliminate the added risk of coronary artery disease after 15 years of not smoking, when compared to a non-smoker.
The Effects Beyond Your Body
Unfortunately, smokers affect others, most especially children that inhale their secondhand smoke. Indeed, the effects of smoking can be severe, causing heart disease and cancer as well as breathing problems in people who have never smoked a day in their lives.
The Bottom Line
This is one area where quitting is good. Not only can you eventually return your cardiovascular system to somewhat normal, but quitting can save those around you from many of the effects of secondhand smoke. It may also save you from significant complications or even death after a surgical procedure. Take this time to look for an appropriate tobacco cessation program or speak to your cardiologist at your next appointment with The Huntington Heart Center.