Smoking and Heart Disease
Heart disease is a silent killer that can strike without warning. If you’re a smoker your chances of developing this life threatening condition are dramatically increased. In 2015, smoking related circulatory problems killed over 16,000 people in Britain - that’s roughly equivalent to the population of a small town.
These figures are repeated every year - that means that every single year we’re losing the equivalent of a town like Ripon, Swanley or Penicuik to heart disease and related circulatory problems caused by smoking.
The real tragedy is that most of these deaths are completely avoidable and the majority of the people who died had families. There are possibly hundreds of thousands of people in the UK currently experiencing health problems and a reduced quality of life due to smoking related circulation problems.
The Heart of the Problem
The human heart is a muscle that pumps blood around the body. It works 24/7, beating anywhere between 60 to 100 times a minute on average. If your heart stops beating - and can’t be restarted - you will die.
When you smoke cigarettes, you are inhaling a cocktail of toxic chemicals, including tar, into your lungs. Deposits of these chemicals build up in your blood vessels, forcing your heart to work harder and harder over a period of years.
As you overload your body with toxic impurities from tobacco smoke, the list of potential problems increases. Most people are aware of the risk of a sudden heart attack, but smokers are also dangerously vulnerable to strokes and peripheral artery disease (PAD)1.
Tobacco smoke contains over 40 known carcinogens (cancer causing substances). These include:
- hydrogen cyanide
- radioactive polonium-210
- carbon monoxide
Understanding nicotine withdrawal symptoms is the first step in sucessfully kicking the habbit. Find out how to manage the initial stages of nicotine withdrawl.
Strokes - An Attack out of the Blue
A stroke occurs when a blood clot stops or reduces the supply of blood to the brain. The brain is suddenly starved of oxygen and nutrients, causing immediate damage. A stroke can lead to severe brain injury with associated disabilities or even death. As a smoker, you are at a considerably higher risk of suffering a life-changing stroke, particularly if you have high blood pressure2. Strokes are particularly dangerous because there will usually be no prior warning before an attack.
Peripheral Artery Disease - PAD
Peripheral artery disease occurs when narrowing blood vessels reduce the flow of blood to the arms and legs. In extreme cases, PAD can result in the amputation of limbs. PAD can strike smokers from all age groups and many younger people have been shocked to discover that they have serious health problems as a consequence of PAD.
Heart Attack - Am I at Risk?
If you’re a smoker you’re at risk of developing coronary heart disease. Plaque develops in your blood vessels, if a plaque ruptures a blood clot will form. If the clot blocks the supply of blood to the heart - a heart attack will follow. Whether you survive a heart attack will depend on the severity of the attack, your age and overall health, and how quickly you receive emergency medical treatment.
If you’re a smoker, and you’re also overweight, have high cholesterol, drink alcohol to excess and don’t exercise regularly you are at exceptionally high risk not only of a future heart attack, but up to 36 other subtypes of cardiovascular disease3.
Smokers are 2-4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than non smokers. Smoking a pack of cigarettes a day doubles your risk of having a heart attack.
- I am over 20
- I drink alcohol
- I need more exercise
- I am overweight
- I eat junk food
- I suffer from stress
If you’re a smoker and you ticked any of the above boxes you should urgently consider stopping smoking. Find the stop smoking strategy that suits your lifestyle and make a plan to quit.
There are several products and treatments currently available to people who want to give up smoking. The best known are so called NRT (nicotine replacement) treatments. They are supposed to reduce cravings for cigarettes by giving patients an alternative source of nicotine. This usually takes the form of skin patches, inhalers, chewing gum or lozenges. These products are popular and easily available, but some studies suggest that there is a high rate of relapse and that many users will start smoking again in one year.
An increasingly popular alternative to NRT is prescription medications that are completely nicotine free. They manage the chemical processes in the brain that create nicotine cravings and reward smokers with pleasurable sensations when they inhale nicotine. Although prescription medications like Champix are not be suitable for everybody, the majority of smokers can use them safely. DoktorABC’s online GPs are licensed to prescribe Champix to UK patients. Simply complete a short medical questionnaire to get started.
Does Giving Up Smoking Reduce the Risk of Heart Attack?
If reading this article is making you nervous (and it should) there is good news. If you give up smoking you will immediately start to reduce the risk of a heart attack. This is the case even if you have been smoking for years and lead a generally unhealthy lifestyle.
As soon as you give up smoking you’ll have stopped depositing tar and other impurities in your blood vessels. At this point it’s worth seeing your GP for a full check up and some advice about how to improve your overall health. With a proper diet and exercise plan it may be possible to start reversing some of the damage that you have done to your circulatory system with cigarettes. At the very least, you may be able to reduce other factors that contribute to heart disease.
Do you have a family history of heart disease?
If you have a history of heart disease in your family you may be at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular problems. If you’re also a smoke the risk may be dangerously high and you should consider giving up smoking immediately.
A Fresh Start in Life
People who succeed to give up smoking often find that they suddenly have greater self confidence and a new concept of what’s actually possible in their lives. Giving up smoking often leads to a new and healthier lifestyle with increased enthusiasm for sport and healthy eating. All of these changes can further reduce the risk of a heart attack for ex smokers.