University of Michigan cardiologist Dr. G. Michael Deeb wants his patients to know something: Nicotine is toxic not only to the lungs but also to the heart. “When most patients think of the dangers of smoking, they think about the lungs,” says Dr. Deeb. “But cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in Michigan, and smoking is accelerating the problem.”
According to the American Heart Association, as many as 30 percent of all coronary heart disease deaths in the United States each year are attributable to cigarette smoking, and the more you smoke, the greater your risk. But even people who smoke fewer than five cigarettes a day can have early signs of cardiovascular disease.
What smoking does to your heart
Cigarette smoke contains nicotine and carbon monoxide, both of which affect your heart and blood vessels. Here’s how:
- Smoking increases blood clotting, which can result in blocked arteries that can lead to heart attack and stroke.
- Smoking increases the risk of abnormal heart rhythms, which may cause sudden death.
- Smoking damages blood vessels and can make them thicken and grow narrower, resulting in a faster heart beat faster and increased blood pressure.
- Smoking can lead to the development of arteriosclerosis (the buildup of plaque along arterial walls).
- Smoking harms the body by raising cholesterol levels.
When combined with other major risk factors, cigarette smoking increases your risk for such heart issues as:
- Angina – Chest pain associated with a blockage in the arteries
- Heart attack – Damage to your heart muscle due to a lack of blood flow to your heart
- Stroke – Blockage in the blood flow to the brain due to a clot or the bursting of a blood vessel in or around the brain
- Aneurysm – A widening and leaking of the aorta
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) of the legs – Narrowing or blockage of the peripheral arteries
- Sudden death
What you gain when you quit
According to the American Cancer Society, when you quit smoking:
- Within 12 hours, the level of poisonous carbon monoxide in the body from cigarettes returns to normal.
- After one year, your risk of heart attack is half that of a continuing smoker’s risk.
- Fifteen years after quitting, your risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker’s risk.
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.