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Smoking and heart disease

Smoking is well known as being a major cause of lung cancer, but it is also responsible for heart disease.

Around one in five premature deaths from heart disease and circulatory disease are directly related to smoking.

Smoking is also a significant risk factor for developing atherosclerosis, or furring of the arteries. It is also responsible for most cases of coronary thrombosis in people under 50.

You don’t have to be a smoker for cigarette smoke to damage the heart. Being near smokers and breathing in second-hand smoke or passive smoking causes heart disease in non-smokers.

How smoking damages the heart

Smoking damages the lining of the arteries. Fatty material can build-up and the arteries can become narrower. This increases the risk of angina, heart attack or stroke.

Smoking increase bad cholesterol levels and reduces levels of good cholesterol.

Carbon monoxide in cigarette and tobacco smoke cuts down the amount of oxygen circulating in the bloodstream, making the heart work harder to provide the body with the right amount of oxygen.

Nicotine in cigarettes causes the body to make more adrenaline, raising blood pressure and making the heart work harder and beat faster. The heart rate rises within a minute of lighting-up.

Smoking makes the blood more likely to clot. Blood clots can cause stroke or heart attacks.

Smokers are around twice as likely to experience a heart attack as a non-smoker and if they have a heart attack, smokers are at least 60% more likely to die from it than non-smokers.

Women smokers may be at an increased risk of heart disease than men. A study published in 2011 in the Lancet suggested the risk of getting heart disease because of smoking is 25% higher for women. One theory is that toxins in cigarette smoke may have more of an effect on women.

After quitting smoking

The British Heart Foundation says stopping smoking is the single best thing you can do for your heart.

The charity says it is never too late to quit and the risk to heart health decreases significantly soon after quitting.

Within a year of quitting, the risk of a heart attack is halved compared with active smokers.

People with coronary artery disease who quit reduce their risk of death from heart disease by around 40%.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on February 15, 2017

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