Smoking is bad for many reasons, though most people generally associate it with illnesses like emphysema and lung cancer. It’s not just your lungs that are affected, however. Your heart feels the strain of smoking significantly, and the nasty habit can seriously increase your risk of heart disease.
With cigarette smoking causing one in five deaths in America, it’s important to understand the damage it can do to your heart — and how quitting can make you healthier almost immediately.
What Smoking Harm
Smoking cigarettes directly affects your heart in several ways, and can easily be extremely harmful. One of the biggest threats smoking poses is to your blood cells. The chemicals found in tobacco damage blood cells as well as your blood vessels, and can lead to diseases like Atherosclerosis — a disease that develops when plaque builds in the arteries. Plaque buildup leads to a lack of blood flow to the organs, which can be devastating to your health.
If plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, that can lead to a heart disease known as Coronary Heart Disease. Coronary Heart Disease causes heart attack and heart failure, and can also potentially kill those who suffer from it.
When it comes to the heart, smoking can not only be a sole cause for several types of heart disease, it can also be an added factor to increased risk for heart disease when combined with high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol levels.
It is widely accepted that there is no safe amount of cigarettes to smoke. Even one can affect your health greatly, and smoking more just enhances those risks. Even secondhand smoke, which occurs when you inhale cigarette smoke from somebody smoking nearby, can lead to heart problems. In fact, almost 40,000 people die each year from heart disease caused by secondhand smoke.
The biggest piece of advice that any doctor would give when it comes to smoking is that you should quit, and quit sooner than later. Why does it matter how soon you give up the habit? That’s because studies have shown that giving up smoking can improve your health almost immediately.
A University of Alabama study found that it can take as little as eight years for a smoker’s risk of heart disease to drop to the level of a non-smoker, whereas previous research indicated that it would take around 15 years to accomplish that much of a decrease in risk.
“It’s good news,” the study’s author, Ali Ahmed, MD, MPH, said. “Now there’s a chance for even less of a waiting period to get a cleaner bill of cardiovascular health.”
Even better, studies have shown that your heart health, as well as your overall health, can actually begin to improve within days of quitting. Your ability to taste and smell increase after just 48 hours, your breathing improves within 72 hours and your risk of a heart attack decreases to half of a non-smoker’s level in just one year.
“These findings [in the new research] underscore what we already know, but gives doctors more power to encourage people to stop smoking,” Merle Myerson, MD, said of the findings.
If you’re a smoker, and especially one with prior risk for heart disease, knowing what a threat you’re posing to your heart health is vitally important. Quitting sooner than later could be the difference between life or death in some cases, but it’s never too late to give up the habit in favor of a healthy lifestyle.