Heart Disease Home > Heart Attack and Smoking

There are six main risk factors for having a heart attack, and smoking is one of them. Smoking accelerates the process of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), which can lead to a heart attack. Smoking can also increase the risk of blood clots, which can block arteries. Studies have shown that using low-tar or low-nicotine cigarettes in the place of regular cigarettes appears to have little effect on reducing the risk for coronary heart disease. No matter how long you've been smoking, quitting will reduce your chances of having a heart attack.

Heart Attack and Smoking: An Overview

The link between heart attacks and smoking 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 inside and outside the heart.
Smoking is now considered one of the six independent risk factors for heart attacks that a person can control. The other heart attack risk factors are:
A person who smokes and has any other heart attack risk factors is at an even greater risk for having a heart attack.

How Does Smoking Cause a Heart Attack?

Most cases of heart disease are caused by atherosclerosis, which is condition where arteries become hardened and clogged (often described as narrowed arteries). 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. Cigarette smoking can increase your risk of dangerous blood clots, both because of the atherosclerosis and also 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.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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