Is your heart healthy? If your answer is yes, how can you be so sure? If your justifications involve regular exercising and a healthy diet, and no health issues, yes you may have a healthy heart. But if your lifestyle includes smoking, then you cannot say your heart is healthy. 

Inhaling smoke from burning tobacco, whether in the form of cigars, cigarettes, or pipes, is a prevalent but dangerous practice. It is well known that this common behaviour harms nearly every organ in the body, including the lungs, eyes, mouth, reproductive organs, blood vessels, bones, bladder, and digestive organs.

Additionally, smoking is the single most preventable cause of cardiovascular disease, (also known as coronary artery disease), which is narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart. With more than 1 million people annual fatalities, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in India.

These numbers are no doubt concerning. If you are a regular smoker, or just smoke once in a while, you’re still at risk. We bet you cannot afford to take this risk if you have a family to feed and prioritise life more than death. 

This blog will establish the link between smoking and heart health. 

How is smoking related to heart health?

Cigarette smoke is made up of more than 7,000 substances, including various gases as well as tar-like liquid and solid particles that are toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic, and can have other detrimental impacts on health. Nicotine and carbon monoxide are two dangerous chemicals that are found in cigarette smoke. Other chemicals found in cigarette smoke include ammonia, tar, formaldehyde, acrolein, acetone, hydroxyquinone, nitrogen oxides, polyaromatic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and cadmium.

These substances in cigarette smoke cause the cells that line blood vessels to become swollen and inflamed. This can narrow the blood vessels, so less blood can flow through, contributing to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Cardiovascular disease refers to multiple conditions that affect the heart and/or blood vessels. Cigarette smoking predisposes the individual to several different clinical heart diseases including:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Aneurysms (a bulge or weakness in an artery)
  • Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD).

Tobacco use and cardiovascular disease risk factors

Smoking and coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease manifests when arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle become constricted by plaque buildup or obstructed by clots. Chemicals present in cigarette smoke induce blood thickening, facilitating clot formation within veins and arteries. Blockage resulting from a clot can precipitate a heart attack and sudden fatality. Stroke ensues from a disruption in blood flow within the brain, leading to a loss of brain function. Strokes can cause lasting brain damage and mortality. Smoking heightens the risk of experiencing strokes, with smokers being more susceptible to stroke-related fatalities compared to former smokers or non-smokers.

Research has concluded that compared with nonsmokers, smokers have higher levels of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol and lower concentrations of good cholesterol (HDL). Consequently, the elevated blood cholesterol levels may result in the accumulation of plaque within the arteries, narrowing them. The risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke is also raised by this.

Smoking and hypertension

Hypertension is often called a “silent” killer. Many people with hypertension exhibit no symptoms. The association between smoking and hypertension risk has been extensively researched but remains controversial. However, few existing studies have found that nicotine — the main active ingredient in cigarette smoke — stimulates the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are hormones that unequivocally increase the cardiovascular risks associated with hypertension.

Smoking and atherosclerosis

Cigarette smoking is widely accepted as a major risk factor for the changes in blood chemistry. These changes in blood chemistry can cause plaque—a waxy substance made up of cholesterol, calcium, fat, scar tissue, and other material—to accumulate in the arteries, the major blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to your body. This plaque buildup may result in atherosclerosis. Left untreated, it can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Smoking and peripheral artery disease

Other rare but serious cardiovascular conditions that can be caused by smoking include peripheral artery disease and peripheral vascular disease. The conditions occur when blood vessels narrow, impeding blood flow to the arms, legs, hands, and feet. Reduced blood flow deprives cells and tissues of vital oxygen, potentially necessitating limb amputation in severe cases. Cross-sectional studies have shown that smoking is the primary preventable cause of PAD.

Smoking and abdominal aortic aneurysm

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm refers to a bulge or weakened area in the abdominal portion of the aorta, the body’s primary artery carrying oxygen-rich blood. Smoking contributes to early damage to the abdominal aorta, increasing the risk of aneurysm formation. A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm poses a life-threatening situation, with smoking being the leading cause of fatalities associated with this condition. Female smokers face a higher risk of mortality from aortic aneurysms compared to their male counterparts who smoke. Autopsies have revealed early narrowing of the abdominal aorta in young adults who smoked during adolescence.

Closing thoughts

Smoking is a widespread and compulsive behaviour that has been associated with a number of cardiovascular diseases and smoking cessation is the single most effective lifestyle measure for prevention of tobacco-related illnesses. 

If you prioritise your health and ensure that you lead a healthy life unbothered by health issues, you must quit smoking. Cigarettes are a slow-poison that you’re taking willingly.

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