Avoiding cancer seems to be everyone’s main health concern these days, and for good reason. But did you know that heart disease is actually the leading cause of death in the U.S.?
We know that diet and exercise are important factors in keeping our blood circulating well and our hearts healthy. If you’re a smoker, a healthy diet and regular exercise alone won’t protect you from the far-reaching effects of smoking, including heart disease.
If you’ve considered the negative effects of smoking, you know it takes a bite out of your wallet, leaves a lingering odor on clothing, yellows teeth and nails, and increases your risk of cancer. Don’t forget, however, that smoking can also greatly increase your chances of heart disease, whose effects may be invisible until the disease has progressed.
Smoker vs. Non-Smoker
Smokers have a higher risk of a range of health problems compared to nonsmokers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risks of coronary heart disease and stroke are each two to four times higher in smokers. Men who smoke have a lung cancer risk 23 times higher than nonsmoking men; women’s risk of lung cancer is 13 times greater than that of nonsmokers. And both men and women are 12 to 13 times more likely to die of lung diseases, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, than nonsmokers.
Smoking cigarettes is linked to heart disease because it increases the risk of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a disease caused by thickening and hardening of arteries, which restricts blood flow. The build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries makes them narrower, so less blood can circulate. Decreased blood flow to the heart puts extra strain on the organ and can cause chest pain, or angina pectoris. If an artery becomes blocked, this can lead to a heart attack or an injury to the heart’s muscle.
Atherosclerosis doesn’t just affect the heart, but also the arteries that carry blood to your arms and legs. These peripheral arteries can become clogged over time, which leads to peripheral vascular disease, or the narrowing/blockage of arteries in your extremities. This, in turn, results in pain, slow healing, and even tissue loss. In addition, peripheral vascular disease, also called peripheral artery disease, increases the risk of stroke.
In women who smoke and take birth control pills, the risk of heart disease goes up. Many oral contraceptives already carry a risk of blood clots, and smoking greatly increases this risk by making it easier for blood clots to form.
Even second hand smoke can cause heart problems, depending on how often a person is exposed to it. Quitting doesn’t just help you. It also helps those around you, especially if you have kids who have been exposed to daily cigarette smoke.
Slowly decreasing the number of cigarettes you smoke can lower your risk of heart problems. Try cutting back the number of cigarettes you smoke each day, then set a quit date. You’ll look better, feel better, and may even live longer.