When a smoker lights up, there can be a rush of conflicting emotions. Feelings of calmness and happiness may be juxtaposed to those of frustration and regret. Most smokers know the ill-effects of their habit. Many want to quit, but the pull of the nicotine can be overwhelmingly strong. Each time a smoker has a cigarette, their brain gets a rush of feel-good chemicals called dopamine. Inevitably, however, these levels drop, and more nicotine is needed to get the rush.
This is the basic cycle that defines most types of addiction. What makes smoking particularly dangerous, however, is its prevalence and potentially catastrophic health complications. Each year, nearly 6 million people across the world die from smoking-related illnesses. In America alone, over 16 million are living with diseases that stem directly from smoking. More disturbing still is the direct connection between smoking and our nation’s number one killer of both men and women: heart disease.
How Does Smoking Lead to Heart Disease?
One quarter of the more than 800,000 deaths from heart disease each year can be linked directly to smoking. The connection lies in the damage that cigarette smoke causes to the lining of the blood vessels. In response to exposure to the dangerous chemicals within the smoke, the cells inside blood vessels become damaged and inflamed, leading to narrowing of the vessels themselves and greatly increasing the risk for a number of cardiovascular conditions and events.
Types of Cardiovascular Disease Associated with Smoking
Cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, is not a single condition. Rather, it is an umbrella term covering many different diseases which impact the cardiovascular system. The most common of these is coronary artery disease (CAD), a condition which commonly results in heart attack. CAD, along with many others are potential complications from smoking. Other commonly associated diseases include:
- Atherosclerosis – Build up of plaque from fatty deposits within the arteries which leads to narrowing and reduced blood flow
- Stroke – Most strokes occur when a clot blocks an artery supplying blood to the brain. This prevents the brain from receiving the oxygen and nutrients it needs for survival and is a dangerous, potentially life-threatening situation.
- Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) – PAD is the result of narrowed blood vessels and reduced blood flow in the extremities, most often the lower legs. The condition can be difficult to catch but can eventually lead to serious complications if left untreated, including potential amputation.
Quitting Smoking for Heart Health
As dangerous as smoking is, quitting can quickly begin to reverse some of the damage and reduce health risks. As early as 24 hours after their last cigarette, a smoker’s risk for heart attack begins to decline. Of course, if quitting were simple, you wouldn’t be reading this. For most, it takes finding the right support system or program to finally get the job done.