A person's risk of heart attack greatly increases with the number of cigarettes he or she smokes. Smokers continue to increase their risk of heart attack the longer they smoke, as well. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of heart attack than non-smokers. Women who smoke and also take birth control pills increase several times their risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, and peripheral vascular disease.
Cigarette smoke not only affects smokers. When you smoke, the people around you are also at risk for developing health problems, especially children. Environmental tobacco smoke (also called passive smoke or secondhand smoke) affects people who are frequently around smokers. Secondhand smoke can cause chronic respiratory conditions, cancer, and heart disease. It is estimated that around 35,000 nonsmokers die from heart disease each year as a result of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.
How Does Smoking Increase Heart Disease Risk?
The nicotine present in cigarettes causes:
- Decreased oxygen to the heart
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
- Increase in blood clotting
- Damage to cells that line coronary arteries and other blood vessels
How Can Quitting Smoking Help My Heart and Lifestyle?
Now that you know how smoking can be harmful to your health and the health of those around you, here are some ways quitting can be helpful. If you quit smoking, you will:
- Prolong your life
- Reduce your risk of disease (including heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, lung cancer, throat cancer, emphysema, ulcers, gum disease, and other conditions)
- Feel healthier; after quitting, you won't cough as much, you'll have fewer sore throats, and you will increase your stamina.
- Look better; quitting can help you prevent face wrinkles, get rid of stained teeth, and improve your skin.
- Improve your sense of taste and smell
- Save money
How To Quit Smoking
There's no one way to quit smoking that works for everyone. To quit, you must be ready both emotionally and mentally. You must also want to quit smoking for yourself, not to please your friends or family. It helps to plan ahead. This guide may help get your started.
What Should I Do First to Stop Smoking?
Pick a date to stop smoking and then stick to it.
Write down your reasons for quitting. Read over the list every day, before and after you quit. Here are some tips to think about.
- Write down when you smoke, why you smoke, and what you are doing when you smoke. You will learn what triggers you to smoke.
- Stop smoking in certain situations (such as during your work break or after dinner) before actually quitting.
- Make a list of activities you can do instead of smoking. Be ready to do something else when you want to smoke.
- Ask your doctor about using nicotine gum or patches. Some people find these aids helpful. There are also drugs to help you quit smoking, such as Chantix and Wellbutrin.
- Join a smoking cessation support group or program. Call your local chapter of the American Lung Association to find one.
How Can I Avoid Relapsing?
- Don't carry a lighter, matches, or cigarettes. Keep all of these smoking reminders out of sight.
- If you live with a smoker, ask that person not to smoke in your presence.
- Don't focus on what you are missing. Think about the healthier way of life you are gaining.
- When you get the urge to smoke, take a deep breath. Hold it for 10 seconds and release it slowly. Repeat this several times until the urge to smoke is gone.
- Keep your hands busy. Doodle, play with a pencil or straw, or work on a computer.
- Change activities that were connected to smoking. Take a walk or read a book instead of taking a cigarette break.
- When you can, avoid places, people, and situations associated with smoking. Hang out with nonsmokers or go to places that don't allow smoking, such as the movies, museums, shops, or libraries.
- Don't substitute food or sugar-based products for cigarettes. Eat low-calorie, healthful foods (such as carrot or celery sticks, sugar-free hard candies) or chew gum when the urge to smoke strikes so you can avoid weight gain.
- Drink plenty of fluids, but limit alcoholic and caffeinated beverages. They can trigger urges to smoke.
- Exercise. Exercising will help you relax.
- Get support for quitting. Tell others about your milestones with pride.
- Work with your doctor to develop a plan using over-the-counter or prescription nicotine-replacement aids.
How Will I Feel When I Quit Smoking?
When you stop smoking, you may crave cigarettes, be irritable, feel very hungry, cough often, get headaches, or have difficulty concentrating. These symptoms of withdrawal occur because your body is used to nicotine, the active addicting agent within cigarettes.
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 usually ease 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, since there are many strong associations with smoking. People may associate smoking with 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. If you relapse do not lose hope. Seventy-five percent of those who quit smoke again. Most smokers quit three times before they are successful. If you relapse, don't give up! Plan ahead and think about what you will do next time you get the urge to smoke.
The good news is your risk of a heart attack is cut in half within two weeks of quitting smoking. After 15 smoke-free years, your risk is similar to that of a person who has never smoked.