How does smoking affect your heart?
Smoking causes 10 per cent of heart disease diagnoses worldwide. Researchers have also estimated that smoking causes 20,000 deaths from heart disease each year in the UK.
Cigarette smoke contains 4,000 toxic chemicals such as nicotine and carbon monoxide. In the following sections, we’ll explore how some of these chemicals affect your heart health.
High blood pressure
Nicotine is the addictive chemical found in cigarettes. When something is addictive it means that you crave it. Nicotine increases your blood pressure and heart rate. Having high blood pressure for a long time can damage your arteries (blood vessels that supply blood from your heart to your tissues) and lead to heart disease.
Carbon monoxide is a gas found in cigarette smoke. Carbon monoxide stops your blood cells from carrying around as much oxygen as normal. This means that less oxygen gets into your body, which can cause damage to vital organs such as your heart.
Blood vessel damage
Cigarette smoke increases the build-up of fatty deposits in your artery walls. These deposits can limit the flow of blood to the heart and brain. This sometimes leads to blood clots, which can cause heart attacks and strokes.
Heart attacks occur when the heart doesn’t get enough oxygen from the blood. Not getting enough blood to your brain can lead to a stroke. Blocked blood vessels can also restrict blood flow to your legs, a process known as peripheral artery disease.
People who smoke are twice as likely to develop a serious heart problem than people who have never smoked. They’re also over five times more likely to develop peripheral arterial disease. If you smoke, your risk of dying from a heart problem is almost triple that of someone who has never smoked.
Can your heart recover from smoking?
If you stop smoking, you will experience the benefits almost immediately.
- Within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your blood pressure and heart rate will return to normal.
- Within eight to 12 hours, the nicotine and carbon monoxide start to leave your body and your blood oxygen levels return to normal.
After a year of quitting smoking, your risk of heart disease reduces by half. People who smoke heavily then quit are less likely to develop any heart or circulatory disease within five years. After 10 to 15 years, your risk of heart disease is no different to someone who has never smoked.
The longer you smoke for, the more likely you are to have heart problems – even if you cut down. So, stopping smoking is the best way to protect your heart health.
Top tips for quitting smoking
Smoking is addictive, so quitting can be difficult. Here are some useful tips to help you.
- Pick a date to stop. Refer to yourself as a non-smoker from that day onwards.
- Tell your friends and family that you’re quitting and ask them for support. If you know somebody who also wants to stop, try stopping together so you can support one another.
- Have a plan to deal with your withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
- Throw away your cigarettes and anything else that might remind you of smoking.
- Think about the situations where you might be tempted to smoke and what action you’ll take to beat the urge.
You might find it helpful to try and form some healthy habits to replace smoking.
Stopping smoking support
There are products and treatments available to help you to stop smoking.
- Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products such as patches, gum, sprays, and lozenges release nicotine into your bloodstream in a safe way to help you to manage cravings.
- Your doctor may be able to prescribe you a medication such as varenicline. These medications can double your chances of stopping smoking.
- Using e-cigarettes (vaping) is less harmful than smoking cigarettes, but they’re not risk-free.
You’re three times more likely to stop smoking if you use products and treatments to stop smoking and get professional support.
You can ask your GP or pharmacist for advice, access online support, or use your local Stop Smoking Service.