How does smoking affect your heart
Smoking has been linked to a lot of health problems, like an increased risk of developing different types of cancer, most typically mouth and lung cancer. But one thing that is often overlooked is how smoking affects your heart health.
Smoking cigarettes can increase your risk of a heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases because it makes the blood vessels more narrow and stiffer—both of which are bad news for the heart.
Unfortunately, even secondhand smoke can increase the risk of damage to your heart, blood vessels, and overall cardiovascular health. This led to the government acting on the advice of healthcare professionals and implementing the smoking ban back in 2007.
As recently as 2017, the World Health Organization estimated that treating smokers' illnesses comes with a global price tag of around $1.4bn.
The ban meant that all tobacco products were banned in all public indoor places in order to minimise the risk of inhaling secondhand smoke for non-smokers in the same building.
Some other benefits to come from the ban was that it made smoking less normalised for children, making them less likely to start smoking. Plus, it also makes the insides of restaurants and pubs etc a lot nicer to be without the nasty smell and nicotine stains on the walls and ceilings.
Vaping versus smoking for heart health
Vapes have been proven to be very useful in the battle to stop smoking, and even the NHS says that you are around twice as likely to quit smoking for good if you use a vape compared to other nicotine replacement products.
Why? Because in comparison to cigarette smoke, vape smoke or "vapour" is much less damaging to your health, as it contains fewer potentially harmful chemicals, and each of them in much lower levels.
Vapes do not combust like cigarettes do as they burn, and they don't have toxic ingredients like tar and carbon monoxide. Tar spreads in the body to distribute toxic chemicals all around it, which can lead to heart disease.
Your lungs start healing as soon as you switch to vapes, and you'll very quickly notice that you have more energy when you're not inhaling poisonous gas.
Public Health England stated that e-cigarette smoke is up to 95% less damaging than conventional cigarette smoke. This video visualises how much more smoking contributes to heart and health issues, if you have two minutes to spare it's definitely worth a watch.
Smoking causes your blood pressure and heart rate to rise
Smoking increases your blood pressure, which in turn leads to further problems such as causing your heart rate to rise.
A study published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that smoking can cause an increase in systolic blood pressure by as much as 15 mm Hg (millimetres of mercury) and diastolic blood pressure by up to 10 mm Hg, even some time after smokers quit.
These numbers were significantly higher than those caused by being overweight, having diabetes, or taking oral contraceptives.
High blood pressure is a common cause of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and other health problems. If you know you have this condition and don't treat it, it can lead to serious medical conditions such as heart attack or stroke.
Smoking also increases the risk for many other diseases that can in turn catalyse high blood pressure, including:
- Heart disease
- Lung disease (including cancer)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Chemicals in cigarette smoke make your heart work harder
The chemicals in cigarette smoke, such as carbon monoxide and nicotine, make your heart work harder. Carbon monoxide and nicotine are added to tobacco products to help smokers inhale more easily, but these chemicals also make your heart pump faster and harder.
As you continue smoking, your body becomes accustomed to the effects of these chemicals—meaning they will no longer speed up or slow down your heart rate.
This subconscious familiarity with your heart beating faster will cause damage over time if you continue to smoke regularly.
High blood pressure can narrow your arteries
Having heightened blood pressure can also make the arteries in your heart narrower, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.
This is because smoking causes nicotine to constrict—or tighten up—the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. When this happens, less blood flows through them, delivering fewer nutrients to cells.
The result? Your heart has to work harder to pump enough blood through the body’s arteries and veins. Over time, this can cause you to develop high blood pressure (hypertension), a dangerous condition that puts stress on your cardiovascular system.
Hypertension increases your chances of having a stroke, experiencing blood clots, or suffering from coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to a heart attack or sudden death.
Narrowed arteries increase your risk for a stroke or heart attack.
Narrowed arteries can also increase your risk of a stroke or heart attack. Narrowed arteries can result in restricted blood flow, which in turn can cause blood to become blocked in the brain, which is known as a stroke.
Narrowed arteries in the heart may also cause it to stop beating properly, resulting in sudden cardiac death due to cardiac arrest.
To help prevent this from happening, quit smoking. Quitting smoking can keep your blood vessels healthy and able to carry oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.
Smoking increases cholesterol levels
Smoking increases levels of cholesterol, which is a waxy type of fat found in your blood. It can build up on the walls of your arteries and cause them to narrow. This can lead to heart disease, stroke, or other serious medical problems.
Coronary artery disease
This is a condition in which plaque builds up inside your arteries, including those in your heart. Cigarette smoking increases this risk by as much as 40%.
These happen when an artery carrying oxygen-rich blood to the brain becomes blocked or ruptures, completely restricting blood flow, cutting off oxygen, and causing damage to brain cells.
One study found that in smokers who had had a stroke, two out of three had been smoking at least 20 cigarettes per day for 10 years or longer; one out of three were current smokers, and one out of four were former smokers who had stopped less than five years before their first stroke.
Smoking can also cause cardiovascular disease (or CVD), and the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that roughly 1 in 4 deaths from CVD are down to smoking.
Even light smokers who smoke only up to five cigarettes per day are more likely to experience early-onset CVD compared to non-smokers.
Smoking is bad for the heart
The heart muscle is essentially an organ that serves to carry blood and supply blood throughout the whole body, and smoking cigarettes really damages its ability to perform. Using e-cigarettes or joining a support group can be a great place to start if you're worried about your health.
The bottom line is that smoking hurts your heart and lungs, causing a variety of health issues that could even be fatal. There is a very clear correlation between smoking and your heart health, and it massively increases the risk of both heart disease and heart attacks, probably the two words you least want to see written next to your heart.
You might have already been considering quitting, or maybe you've tried already and feel you could do with some help.
Making the decision to quit smoking can seem like a no-brainer, but it's actually very hard for the majority of people because nicotine is extremely addictive.
Smokers get withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit smoking for good, which is why vapes can be a handy tool that you don't even need to get over the counter, you can just order online.
You might experience cravings when trying to quit smoking, which can be exacerbated by smelling tobacco smoke around you. Just try and remember the benefits of quitting smoking and what it will do for your heart and overall health.
If you're struggling to quit smoking, be sure to speak to your GP or make use of free helpful services that are available to you, like the British Heart Foundation's 10 steps to stopping smoking.
The NHS has many resources aimed at helping you stop smoking such as tips and tricks, email support, support groups, a telephone helpline, and even an app. They also run the annual Stoptober initiative, which is designed to help you quit across that month alone, as people who make it 28 days smoke-free are 5 times more likely to quit smoking for good.