How Smoking Affects Your Heart

Cigarette smoke is known to affect the body in a variety of adverse ways, but among the most serious issues for smokers is the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Here we look at how smoking affects your heart and why quitting smoking today is a great way to improve your health.

How does smoking affect your heart?

Smoking affects the heart and your wider circularity system in a variety of ways. Firstly, it reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and increases the amount of carbon monoxide. This toxic substance prevents blood cells from carrying oxygen around the body1 leaving a smoker’s heart at higher risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases. In addition, nicotine affects the heart by increasing rate and blood pressure. If untreated, this increase in blood pressure can permanently damage your heart and arteries.

In addition to this, toxins found within cigarettes cause the arteries to get blocked by plaque and other sticky substances. If the arteries to the heart are narrowed or become blocked, this may lead to heart disease or even heart attacks or stroke. At the same time, smoking leads your blood to thicken which can cause blood clots in the arteries and further blockages. The combined affect this has on the heart can be severe.

According to The British heart Foundation, ‘nearly 20,000 UK heart and circulatory deaths2,’ can be attributed to smoking each year, however, quitting today will help reduce significantly your chances of developing heart disease or suffer from a heart attack.

How does smoking cause heart disease?

Smoking causes heart disease by harming the blood vessels. Chemicals in cigarette smoke cause the cells that line the blood vessels to swell and harden, narrowing the blood vessels and arteries. This makes it very difficult for oxygen to be carried throughout the body. In such instances certain vascular diseases may occur:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Coronary Heart Disease (CVD)
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral Arterial Disease
  • Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

All of these life-threatening conditions are caused, in the main, by the fact that smoking blocks blood vessels and arteries, stopping blood reaching major organs such as the brain and heart. More than 4,000 chemicals which are detrimental to our health have been identified in cigarette smoke, all of which may play a part in damaging your heart.

Specifically, however, there are three toxins involved with smoking which are known to affect the heart—carbon monoxide, nicotine and ammonia. When a smoker inhales the carbon monoxide from the smoke of a cigarette, this chemical makes its way through the lining of the lung into the bloodstream where it attaches itself to red blood cells.

In addition to this, ammonia, which plays an important role in maintaining cardiovascular health3, can be raised to dangerous levels, while nicotine raises blood pressure both when metabolised and when you are craving the drug.

Does smoking increase heart rate?

Smoking harms many parts of the body, but an increased heart rate in smokers is caused by damage to the blood vessels and arteries as well as the body’s reaction to the drug nicotine. A smoker’s heart is more likely to suffer from conditions such as increased heart rate and heart disease because of the lack of oxygen in the blood and the large amount of plaque build-up in the arteries.

What does smoking do to the heart?

Now we know why smoking effects the heart, but what does it do to it? Basically, a smoker’s heart becomes weak because it’s always working hard to pump blood around the body. The constricted blood flow and lack of oxygen in the blood means that vital organs are not getting enough oxygen. This lack of oxygen in the bloodstream leads to weak organs which then in turn leads to a weak heart and potential heart disease.

Symptoms of heart disease include:

  • Angina
  • Heart attacks
  • Heart failure

The most common symptoms of coronary heart disease (CHD) are angina (chest pain) and breathlessness. Angina can be mild and may have a similar feeling to that of indigestion. However, if your arteries become severely blocked you are more liable to suffer from potential heart attacks or failure.

Heart failure is very severe and normally occurs when the heart is too weak to pump blood around the body. This can happen to sufferers of COPD, another condition which can be caused by smoking.

Signs to watch out for are:

  • Pain from the chest travelling to other parts of the body
  • Lightheadedness
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Breathlessness

All in all, smoking is not good for your heart. A smoker will always be at a potential risk of heart disease and other serious health conditions if he/she continues to smoke. However, quitting today can reduce your chances of these issues, as well as provide a number of other benefits over time.

For any more information on how to prevent heart disease you can visit the NHS website. Additionally, if you want to quit smoking now, visit the NHS stop smoking services or your local pharmacy and discover how nicotine replacement therapy can help.

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