Any amount of smoking, even occasional smoking, damages the heart and blood vessels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD) (illnesses relating to the heart and blood vessels) and causes one of every three deaths from CVD. Give a gift to yourself (and those you love) and quit smoking to decrease your risk of heart disease. We can’t think of a better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day!
How smoking breaks your heart (and the hearts of those around you)
Tobacco smoke can quickly affect the heart and blood vessels, causing your heart rate to rise almost immediately. The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduces your blood’s ability to carry oxygen, this means less oxygen is getting to your heart. Meanwhile, your faster heart beat (due to smoking) means the heart needs more oxygen, so it continues to beat faster to try and deliver enough oxygen to the heart. But remember, carbon monoxide is preventing your blood from carrying enough oxygen. Over time, a fast heartbeat can strain your heart, creating a cycle that can lead to serious health problems, like coronary heart disease.
Coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease, is the leading cause of death in the United States. In King County, heart disease is the second leading cause of death. Smokers are 2-4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than nonsmokers, and secondhand smoke causes nearly 34,000 early deaths from coronary heart disease each year in the United States among nonsmokers.
How to mend your broken heart
Spoiler alert: Stop smoking! Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do for your heart health, and the good news is that risk to your heart health decreases soon after you stop smoking. Your body will begin to heal itself almost immediately after your last cigarette. Within as little as 20 minutes your heart rate and blood pressure drop, within 12 hours the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops, and within just a few weeks your circulation begins to improve. A year after you quit smoking, your risk of coronary heart disease becomes half that of a smoker’s, and between 5-15 years after quitting, your risk of stroke is reduced to that of a non-smoker. Fifteen years after quitting, your risk of coronary heart disease is as low as someone who has never smoked. If you have coronary heart disease, quitting smoking greatly reduces the risk of a repeat heart attack, many studies show the reduction in risk is 50% or more.
Keys to quitting
We know it is difficult to quit smoking. Nicotine dependence is powerful, and it can take several attempts to stop smoking. Studies have shown that these five steps will help you quit and quit for good:
Get ready: Set a quit date. Make changes to your environment, such as throwing out all cigarettes and ashtrays in your home or car. Think about any past quit attempts, what worked? What didn’t work?
Get support: Research shows that you have a better chance of being successful if you have help. Tell your family, friends, and co-workers that you plan to quit. Talk to your healthcare provider, and get individual, group or telephone counseling.
Learn new skills: When you first try to quit, change your routine such as taking a different route to work or drinking tea instead of coffee. Try to distract yourself from urges to smoke, try: talking to someone, exercising, writing in a journal, or drinking lots of water.
Get medication: Medications can help you reduce some of your urges to smoke and help get you through withdrawals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved these medications to help you quit smoking: the patch, nicotine gum, nicotine lozenges (available over the counter) and a nicotine inhaler, nasal spray, Chantix and Zyban/Buproprion (all available by prescription). Ask your healthcare provider for advice and carefully read the information on the package to use medication properly. These medications, along with behavior change support can double your chances of quitting and quitting for good.
Be prepared: Most relapses happen within the first three months after quitting. Don’t be discouraged if you start smoking again. Remember, most people try to quit several times before they are successful. Be prepared for difficult situations or triggers such as, stress, being around other smokers, weight gain or mood changes.
Quitting smoking is hard, but you can increase your chances of success with help. You can find more resources to help you quit here.
Image credit: Tobacco Breaks Hearts graphic by Make Smoking History.
Originally published February 14, 2019