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Smoking and Heart Disease

The Effects of Smoking on Heart Disease

Cigarette smoking greatly increases the risk of fatal and nonfatal heart attacks in both men and women. Heavy smokers are two to four times more likely to have a heart attack than nonsmokers. The heart attack death rate among all smokers is 70 percent greater than among nonsmokers. People who are active regularly are more likely to cut down or stop cigarette smoking. Smoking also increases the risk of a second heart attack among heart attack survivors.
Women who smoke and use oral contraceptives have an even greater risk than smoking alone. The good news is that quitting smoking greatly reduces the risk of heart attack.

The Effects of Quitting

One year after quitting smoking, the risk of heart disease drops to about one-half that of current smokers and gradually returns to normal in people without heart disease. After 15 years, the risk will be nearly that of a nonsmoker. Even among people with heart disease, the risk of heart attack drops sharply one year after quitting smoking, and it continues to decline over time; however, the risk does not return to normal.
No matter how long you've been smoking -- or how much you smoke -- quitting will reduce your chances of developing heart disease. The following sections offer suggestions that you may find helpful. These suggestions are broken into four groups:
  • Preparing to succeed
  • Breaking the habit
  • Medicines to help
  • If you slip.
Preparing to Succeed
Tips to prepare yourself prior to quitting smoking include:
  • Get motivated. Take some time to think about all the benefits of being "smoke-free." Besides the health benefits of quitting, what else do you have to gain? Money saved from not buying cigarettes? Loved ones no longer exposed to secondhand smoke? A better appearance? No more standing outside in the cold or rain for a smoke? Write down all of the reasons why you want to stop smoking.
  • Sign on the dotted line. Write a brief contract that states your intention to stop smoking, your quitting date, and some ways you plan to reward yourself for becoming an ex-smoker. Have someone sign it with you.
  • Line up support. Ask the person who cosigns your contract -- or another friend or relative -- to give you special support in your efforts to quit. Plan to get in touch with your support person regularly to share your progress and to get encouragement. If possible, quit with a friend or family member.
Breaking the Habit
Tips for when it times to actually quit smoking are as follows:
  • Know yourself. To quit successfully, you need to know your personal smoking "triggers." These are the situations and feelings that typically bring on the urge to light up. Some common triggers are drinking coffee, having an alcoholic drink, talking on the phone, watching someone else smoke, and experiencing stress. Make a list of your own personal triggers. Especially during the first weeks after quitting, try to avoid as many triggers as you can.
  • Find new habits. Replace your "triggers" with new activities that you don't associate with smoking. For example, if you've always had a cigarette with a cup of coffee, switch to tea for a while. If stress is a trigger for you, try a relaxation exercise, such as deep breathing, to calm yourself. (Take a slow, deep breath, count to five, and release it. Repeat 10 times.)
  • Keep busy. Get involved in activities that require you to use your hands, such as needlework, art projects, jigsaw puzzles, or fix-up projects around your house or apartment. When you feel the urge to put something in your mouth, try some vegetable sticks, apple slices, or sugarless gum. Some people find it helpful to inhale on a straw or chew on a toothpick until the urge passes.
  • Keep moving. Walk, garden, bike, or do some yoga stretches. Physical activity will make you feel better and will help prevent weight gain.
  • Know what to expect. During the first few weeks after quitting, you may experience temporary withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, irritability, tiredness, and trouble concentrating. While these feelings are not pleasant, it may help to know that they are signs that your body is recovering from smoking. Most symptoms end within two to four weeks.
  • Ask for help. A number of free or low-cost programs are available to help people stop smoking. They include programs offered by local chapters of the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society. Other low-cost programs can be found through hospitals, health maintenance organizations, workplaces, and community groups.
  • Give yourself a break. Get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, and eat three healthy meals each day. If you are not as productive or cheerful as usual during the first weeks after quitting, be gentle with yourself. Give yourself a chance to adjust to your new smoke-free lifestyle. Congratulate yourself for making a major, positive change in your life.
Medicines to Help You Quit
As you prepare to quit smoking, consider using a medicine that can help you stay off cigarettes. Some of these medications contain very small amounts of nicotine, which can help lessen the urge to smoke. They include:
Another quitting aid is bupropion SR (Zyban®), a medicine that contains no nicotine but reduces the craving for cigarettes. It is available only by prescription. While all of these medications can help people stop smoking, they are not safe for everyone. Talk with your doctor about whether you should try any of these aids.
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