Smoking and Heart Disease

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on February 14, 2024
5 min read

Most people link cigarette smoking to breathing problems and lung cancer. But did you know that smoking is also a major risk factor for heart disease?

About 20% of deaths from heart disease in the U.S. are directly related to smoking.

A person's chance of heart disease increases with the number of cigarettes they smoke. How long they’ve smoked matters, too. If you have a pack of cigarettes a day, you’re twice as likely to have a heart attack as someone who doesn’t smoke. Women who take birth control pills and smoke cigarettes increase their risk of heart attack s, stroke s, blood clots, and peripheral vascular disease greatly.

When you smoke, the people around you are at risk of having health problems, too. That’s especially true for children.

Secondhand smoke can cause chronic respiratory conditions, cancer, and heart disease. About 35,000 nonsmokers die from heart disease each year as a result of exposure to it.

The nicotine in cigarettes brings:

If you quit smoking, you will:

Luckily, most of the damage tobacco does to you is reversible. When you quit, your risk of blood clots gets lower. Your "bad" cholesterol will go down and your "good" cholesterol will go up. That’ll help slow the buildup of new plaque deposits.

Within 2 weeks, you may notice it's easier to exercise without feeling short of breath. Over the next few months, you'll be able to breathe deeply again. Your hacking cough should disappear, too.

Don't worry if you put on a few pounds at first. Many people swap food for smoking when they first quit. After a little while, you and your body will get used to a smoke-free life. When you get more exercise and improve your diet, you'll get your weight under control.

If you have heart disease, it's not too late to make a difference. If you give up cigarettes after a heart attack, you can cut your risk of having a second one in half. Quitting after you've had bypass surgery can keep your arteries healthy and help prevent further clogs and disease.

When you quit, you'll also protect your friends and family from the health risks of secondhand smoke.

Talk to your doctor to get suggestions on how to end your tobacco habit. They can also put you in touch with programs that offer tips and support.

There's no one way that works for everyone. You have to be emotionally and mentally ready. You must also want to quit smoking for yourself, not to please your friends or family. It helps to plan ahead.

  • First, 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.
  • Write down when you smoke, why you smoke, and what you are doing when you smoke. You’ll learn what causes 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 – and do them when the urge hits.
  • Ask your doctor about nicotine gum or patches, or drugs that can help you quit.
  • Join a stop-smoking support group or program. Your local chapter of the American Lung Association can help you find one.

Don't carry a lighter, matches, or cigarettes. Keep all of these smoking reminders out of sight.

If you live with a smoker, ask them not to smoke around you.

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 until the urge to smoke is gone.

Keep your hands busy. Doodle, play with a pencil or straw, or work on a computer.

Don’t do things 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 that you relate to smoking. Hang out with nonsmokers or go to places that don't allow smoking, like 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, or 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. It will help you relax.

Get support. Tell others about your milestones with pride. Use your support group to help you get past problem situations.

Work with your doctor to develop a plan. You may use over-the-counter or prescription nicotine replacement aids.

When you stop smoking, you may:

  • Crave cigarettes
  • Be cranky
  • Feel very hungry
  • Cough often
  • Get headaches
  • Have a hard time concentrating

These symptoms of withdrawal happen because your body is used to nicotine.

When you have withdrawal symptoms within the first 2 weeks after quitting, stay focused. Think about your reasons for quitting. Know 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 want to smoke, since there are many strong links to smoking. People may link smoking to specific situations, to a variety of emotions, or to certain people in their lives. The best way to overcome these associations is to have them without smoking.

If you relapse, don’t lose hope. Seventy-five percent of those who quit smoke again. Most folks quit three times before they succeed. Plan ahead and think about what you’ll do the next time you get the urge to smoke.

The good news is your risk of a heart attack is cut in half within 1-2 years of when you quit. After 15 smoke-free years, your risk is similar to that of a person who has never smoked.