Smoking and Heart Disease
There is a strong link between heart disease and smoking. In fact, smoking increases the risk of a second heart attack among heart attack survivors. Statistics indicate that the heart attack death rate among all smokers is 70 percent greater than that for nonsmokers. No matter how long you've been smoking -- or how much you smoke -- quitting will reduce your chances of developing heart disease.
Heart Disease and Smoking: An Overview
The link between smoking and heart disease was noted in the first Surgeon General's report in 1964. Later reports revealed a much stronger connection. Heart disease research scientists found that smoking is a major cause of diseases of blood vessels both inside and outside the heart.
Smoking is now considered one of the six independent risk factors for heart disease that a person can control (the others are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and physical inactivity). A person who smokes and has any other heart disease risk factors is at even greater risk for developing heart disease.
How Does Smoking Cause Heart Disease?
Most cases of heart disease are caused by atherosclerosis, which is a condition in which arteries become harden and clogged (narrow). Clogged arteries can keep the heart from getting enough blood and oxygen, and can cause chest pain (angina). If a blood clot forms, it can suddenly cut off blood flow in the artery and cause a heart attack.
Cigarette smoking speeds up the process of atherosclerosis by damaging the cells lining the blood vessels and heart. Smoking can also increase your risk of dangerous blood clots, both because of the atherosclerosis and because smoking causes blood platelets to clump together.
Smoking low-tar or low-nicotine cigarettes rather than regular cigarettes appears to have little effect on reducing the risk for coronary heart disease.