Heart Disease and Smoking

Heart Disease and SmokingMost people know that cigarette and tobacco smoking increases the risk of lung cancer and breathing problems, but few realize that it also greatly increases the risk of heart disease, peripheral vascular disease (disease in the vessels that supply blood to the arms and legs) and abdominal aortic aneurysm. Research has shown that smoking increases heart rate, tightens major arteries, and can cause an irregular heart rhythm, all of which make your heart work harder. Smoking also raises blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke.

Although nicotine is the main active agent in cigarette smoke, other chemicals and compounds such as tar and carbon monoxide are also harmful to your heart in many ways. These chemicals lead to the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis), possibly by injuring the vessel walls. And they also affect cholesterol levels and levels of fibrinogen, which is a blood-clotting material. This increases the risk of a blood clot that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

When you smoke, you also put others at risk. According to the American Heart Association, about 40,000 people die of heart and blood vessel diseases caused by secondhand smoke. Children and teens have an increased risk of heart disease as adults because breathing secondhand smoke lowers their “good cholesterol” levels, raises their blood pressure and damages the heart. Secondhand smoke is especially dangerous for premature babies who have respiratory distress syndrome and for children with asthma. It has also been shown that children exposed to secondhand smoke tend to have increased fluid in the middle ear, which leads to ear infections.

Additionally, while many people believe vaping or using an e-cigarette is safer than smoking combustible cigarettes, there is still an increased risk for heart-related problems. According to the American College of Cardiology Foundation, e-cigarette users are 56 percent more likely to have a heart attack and 30 percent more likely to suffer a stroke. Coronary artery disease and circulatory problems, including blood clots, were also much higher among those who vape — 10 percent and 44 percent higher, respectively.

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Why Should I Quit Smoking

According to the American Heart Association, smoking is the most important preventable cause of death in the United States. Once you decide to quit, you are already on your way to a healthier heart and a reduced risk of heart disease. But quitting smoking has other benefits, too:

  • You will live longer. American Heart Association statistics show that smokers who quit between the ages of 35 and 39 can add an average of 6 to 9 years to their lives.
  • Reduce your risk of developing and dying from heart disease.
  • Lower your risk of atherosclerosis.
  • Lower your risk of blood clots.
  • Reduce your risk of sudden cardiac death, a second heart attack, and death from other chronic diseases.

How Do I Quit Smoking

You must be ready to quit to be successful. And remember, most smokers try to quit 5-7 times before they succeed. Here are few tips:

  • Pick a quit date to quit: Maybe a day that means something to you (i.e. birthday).
  • Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, car, etc.
  • Be aware of the situations that make you want to smoke and avoid them.
  • Tell your family, friends, and coworkers that you are quitting, and ask those who smoke not to smoke around you.
  • Ask your doctor about nicotine gum, patches, inhalers, lozenges, nasal sprays or prescription medicines that may help you quit and/or aid with withdrawal symptoms.
  • Join a counseling group or program.
  • If you are located in Middlesex, Somerset, Mercer, Ocean, Essex, Union, or Monmouth County and are in need of quit services reach out to the FREE 8- week program with RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery “Nicotine and Tobacco Recovery Program” where you will be connected to a certified tobacco treatment specialist and given FREE nicotine replacement therapy (patches, gum and lozenges) based on your individualized treatment plan.
  • Participate in wellness-oriented activities to keep a positive focus. RWJBarnbas Health offers Wellness events throughout the year designed to keep you healthy.

How Will I Feel When I Quit?

Beating your addiction to nicotine will take more than willpower and determination. Expect challenges. Most people who are finding it tough to quit will start smoking again in the first 3 months after trying to quit. The difficulty quitting is often caused by the withdrawal symptoms you feel, but these symptoms will go away in time. And even as the physical withdrawal decreases, you may still be tempted to smoke when you feel stressed or down. Be ready for these times. Just knowing that certain feelings can be a smoking trigger will help you handle them.

  • When withdrawal symptoms occur within the first two weeks after quitting, stay in control. Think about your reasons for quitting. Remind yourself that these are signs that your body is healing and getting used to being without cigarettes.
  • The withdrawal symptoms are only temporary. They are strongest when you first quit but will go away within 10 to 14 days. Remember that withdrawal symptoms are easier to treat than the major diseases that smoking can cause.
  • You may still have the desire to smoke. There are many strong associations with smoking, such as smoking during specific situations, with a variety of emotions or with certain people in their lives. The best way to overcome these associations is to experience them without smoking.

To help you keep your focus, remember the benefits of quitting. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

  • Within 20 minutes of quitting, your heart rate will decrease.
  • Within 12 hours of quitting, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood will decrease to normal.
  • Within 3 months of quitting, your risk of a heart attack decreases and your lungs will begin to work better.
  • After 1 year, your added risk of coronary artery disease is half that of someone who smokes.
  • After 5 years, your risk of stroke is the same as that of a nonsmoker.
  • After 10 years, your lung cancer death rate is about half that of someone who smokes.
  • After 15 years, your risk of coronary artery disease is the same as that of a nonsmoker.

If you smoke again (called a relapse) do not lose hope. Seventy-Five percent of those who quit relapse. Most smokers quit three times before they are successful. If you relapse, don’t give up! Review the reasons why you wanted to become a nonsmoker. Plan ahead and think about what you will do next time you get the urge to smoke.

Request an Appointment with Our Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialists or call us at 833-795-QUIT (7848) or email us at quitcenter@rwjbh.org.

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