Smoking and Heart Disease

Most people associate cigarette smoking with breathing problems and lung cancer. But did you know that smoking is also a major cause of heart disease for men and women?

According to the American Heart Association, more than half of all smoking-related deaths are from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack or stroke. And a person's risk of cardiovascular disease greatly increases with the number of cigarettes he or she smokes. Smokers continue to increase their risk of disease the longer they smoke. 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, 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.

How Does Smoking Increase Heart Disease Risk?

Nicotine in cigarettes speeds up the heart and also narrows the arteries, making it harder for enough blood to get to the heart.

Smoking and having high cholesterol significantly increase your risk of heart disease. Smoking can also cause blood vessels to narrow, decreasing blood flow and potentially leading to rupture of cholesterol plaque in the blood vessel wall and blood clots.

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, and not to please your friends or family. It helps to plan ahead. This guide may help get your started.

How Should I Prepare to Quit 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 or prescription medications that may help you quit.
  • Join a smoking cessation support group or program. Call your local chapter of the American Lung Association.

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How Can I Avoid Relapsing?

These tips may help to you avoid relapsing and smoking again:

  • 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 non-smokers or go to places that don't allow smoking.
  • 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, because it will help you relax and remind you that your lungs are healing.
  • 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?

You may crave cigarettes, be irritable, feel very hungry, cough often, get headaches or have difficulty concentrating when you quit smoking. 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 start to lessen or even go away 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.

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