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Your Heart and the Health Risks of Smoking

Although smoking is widely known as the leading cause of lung cancer, it damages other organs in the human body, too - particularly the heart. Indeed, coronary heart disease, the number one cause of death for most Americans, can result from smoking. What's more, the risk for coronary heart disease is 2 to 4 times greater in people who smoke.

Smoking isn't just bad for your heart, either. Breathing in secondhand smoke can have a dramatic impact on the cardiovascular system. The Surgeon General's report states that spending just a short amount of time in a smoky room can cause immediate, negative effects, such as damage to the lining of the blood vessels, a decrease in blood flow, and blood platelets becoming stickier – all increasing the risk for a heart attack.

Other studies agree. A recent article in the European Heart Journal explains that just 20 minutes of secondhand smoke exposure negatively affects blood platelets to the same degree as actively smoking one or two cigarettes. Another study in Finland found that children ages 8 to 13 exposed to secondhand smoke showed thickening of the arteries, an early warning sign of heart disease.

What about Menthol?

Some people believe that menthol cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes, but there is no evidence to support this. Instead, there is some research to suggest that menthol cigarettes are more addictive, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. While the Food and Drug Administration banned flavored cigarettes in 2009, menthol cigarettes are still available. If you currently smoke menthol cigarettes – or any cigarettes – quitting would greatly improve your heart health.

Take Quitting Smoking to Heart

You may have heard many of these statistics before but it hasn't made quitting any easier. But quitting smoking is never easy. Many people don't succeed on the first—or even second—try. But eventually they succeed. So it's worth trying again.

Every puff of a cigarette harms your heart a little bit more. Smoking increases your heart rate and blood pressure.  Increased heart rate and blood pressure make your heart work harder than it normally would.

Smoking also damages arteries and leads to the buildup of plaque. Blood clots can form more easily and block the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, leading to a heart attack.  When you have heart failure, your heart is already weaker than normal, so it is especially important to not smoke.

Look After Your Heart

The good news is that as soon as you quit smoking, your body benefits. 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure improve. Within 12 hours of being smoke-free, your blood has less carbon monoxide. And within a few weeks, your circulation improves.

People with heart failure who quit smoking have a reduced risk of death and are less likely to have a second heart attack. Quitting also lowers your risk for stroke, lung cancer and other cancers. Plus, it gets easier to exercise, breathe and smell and taste food.

Make a Plan

Ready to quit? To boost your chances of success, follow these steps:

  • Get committed. Think of all the reasons why quitting is a good idea.
  • Pick a quit date. It could be a special day, such as your birthday, or a random date.
  • Plan ahead. Before your quit date, see your doctor to discuss medications to help you quit. Sign up for a local smoking cessation program, gather self-help materials or call a quit-smoking hotline. These tools can help you cope with withdrawal and stay quit for good.

Sources: American Cancer Society; American Heart Association; European Heart Journal; Krames Staywell; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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