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Effects of Smoking on Cardiovascular Disease

Most cases of cardiovascular disease are caused by atherosclerosis, which is a condition where arteries become hardened and clogged. Clogged arteries are narrower and can keep the heart or brain from getting enough blood and oxygen.
They can cause chest pain (angina) or a transient ischemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke). If a blood clot forms, it can suddenly cut off blood flow in the artery and cause a heart attack or stroke.
Cigarette smoking speeds up the process of atherosclerosis by damaging the cells lining the blood vessels. Smoking can increase your risk of dangerous blood clots, both because of the atherosclerosis and because smoking causes blood platelets to clump together.
Because of these effects, 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.
Women who smoke and use oral contraceptives have an even greater risk than women who only smoke. In addition, people who smoke are two to four times more likely to have a stroke. Cigarette smoking contributes to 14 percent of all stroke-related deaths each year.

Secondhand Smoke and Cardiovascular Disease

Exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular problems in nonsmoking adults. Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk by 25 to 30 percent. According to the American Heart Association, 40,000 people a year die from cardiovascular disease caused by secondhand smoke.

How Quitting Smoking Affects Cardiovascular Disease

Quitting smoking has a dramatic impact on cardiovascular disease. 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 persons without heart disease. After 15 years, the risk will be nearly that of a non-smoker.
Even among persons with heart disease, the risk drops sharply one year after quitting smoking. It continues to decline over time, but the risk does not return to normal.
With regards to stroke, quitting smoking drops the risk significantly during the first two years. After five years, the risk is equal to that of a non-smoker.
No matter how long (or how much) you've been smoking, quitting will lessen your chances of developing cardiovascular disease.
If you smoke, there are some great health reasons to stop. One of these is the known relationship between cardiovascular disease and smoking, including heart disease and stroke. Talk to your doctor for more information. Together, you can decide on a plan that makes the most sense for you.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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