It’s probably not news to many people that smoking cigarettes is bad for you. If you’re a smoker, maybe you’ve even tried to quit in the past but weren’t able to stay off of nicotine in the long term. The thing to remember is that when it comes to giving up smoking, it’s always the right time. It’s important to be fully aware of the ways that smoking can harm your heart and bloodstream, as well as how big a positive difference kicking the habit can make.

1. How does smoking affect your heart health?

When you breathe in cigarette smoke, you’re taking in a lot of chemicals that are carried throughout the bloodstream. Nicotine is a proven contributor to high blood pressure and the narrowing of the arteries. Cigarette smoke also contains tar, carbon monoxide, and other chemicals which can damage your heart and blood vessels. This can eventually lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, aneurysms, and coronary heart disease.

2. What short- and long-term effects do smoking have on your heart?

Inhaling cigarette smoke causes an immediate spike in your heart rate and blood pressure. Smoking over a longer period of time can cause several cardiovascular complications, including:

Atherosclerosis: Smoking causes plaque buildup in the bloodstream which results in the narrowing and stiffening of the blood vessels.
Blood clots: Cigarettes contain chemicals that cause the blood to thicken, increasing your risk of blood clots. These can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Peripheral arterial disease: Narrowed blood vessels can cause reduced blood flow to the extremities, increasing the risk of serious wounds and infections.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms: Weakened areas of the abdominal aorta, a major blood vessel that carries blood throughout your body. When the aorta’s wall is weakened, the vessel is more susceptible to ruptures which can cause potentially fatal bleeding.

3. What kind of testing can be done to measure your heart health if you are a regular smoker?

Different tests which can be useful for evaluating your heart health include echocardiograms, carotid artery ultrasounds, renal artery ultrasounds, and peripheral arterial disease testing. These sonograms and tests can allow for visualization of your heart, carotid arteries, renal arteries, and vascular flow in your extremities.

4. What are the benefits of quitting smoking?

The benefits of quitting smoking begin almost the moment you start. Smoking cessation is associated with immediate improvements to health and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. According to the American Heart Association, smoking cessation reduces the risk of heart disease, the risk of an additional heart attack, and death from heart disease by half. Smoking cessation will also reduce your risk of developing throat and lung cancers, asthma, and COPD.

5. What strategies can be useful for quitting smoking?

Nicotine is highly addictive, but you don’t have to just give it up cold turkey without any support. Strategies for smoking cessation can include nicotine replacement products such as patches or lozenges, non-nicotine medications, and support groups. Your primary care doctor can help you determine which options are best for you.

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