How Does Smoking Affect Your Heart: Side Effects And Risks

Smoking is bad for your health. There is no doubt about it. The question is, does smoking affect your heart? What are the risks involved?

Smoking has long been associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD).  In fact, smoking causes atherosclerosis or plaque buildup in arteries. This plaque build-up increases the risk of CVD which can result in early death.

Smoking impacts the heart in several ways. 

First, nicotine stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, causing increased blood pressure and heart rate. 

Second, nicotine constricts blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the heart. 

Third, nicotine reduces oxygen levels in the body, leading to low energy levels and fatigue. 

Fourth, nicotine damages the lining of the lungs, increasing the risk of lung cancer. Finally, smoking also raises cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of a heart attack. 

In this piece, we look at the risks associated with these damaging, and sometimes deadly, side effects that smoking has on your heart as well as looking at these side effects in more detail.

Side Effects Smoking Has On Your Heart

Here we look at the main side effects associated with smoking that directly affect the heart.

High Blood Pressure

The first effect of smoking on the heart is high blood pressure. When you smoke, your blood pressure rises because nicotine constricts blood vessel walls. 

Nicotine also lowers the amount of nitric oxide in the body, a chemical that relaxes smooth muscle cells in blood vessel walls. Nitric oxide helps regulate blood pressure by relaxing blood vessel walls.

When nicotine constricts blood veins, it can cause them to become more rigid than normal. This makes it harder for blood to move through the veins. As a result, blood pressure rises.

Low Blood Flow

Another way smoking affects the heart is by lowering blood flow. 

When you smoke, nicotine constricts the blood vessels supplying the heart. This reduces the amount of blood flowing into the heart. 

It’s like putting a lid on a jar – if you put a lid on a jar, less air gets inside. 

If you don’t have enough air circulating inside the body, then there isn’t enough oxygen available to keep the organs healthy.

Reduced Oxygen Levels

Smoking can also cause reduced oxygen levels. 

When you smoke, the chemicals in tobacco irritate the lining of the lungs. This triggers an inflammatory response, which leads to scarring and thickening of the lungs.

This inflammation causes the lining of the lungs to swell up and form small pockets called bullae. 

These pockets reduce the ability of the lungs to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. As a result, oxygen levels drop.

High Cholesterol

Finally, smoking also raises cholesterol and triglyceride levels. High cholesterol and triglycerides raise the risk of coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease occurs when fatty deposits build up along the inner wall of the coronary arteries. This narrowing of the arteries reduces the amount of blood reaching the heart.

Risks Associated With The Side Effects Smoking Has On Your Heart

All of the above risks can increase your chance of suffering from the below diseases and illnesses as a direct result of the chronic impact smoking has on your heart and your general health.

Arrhythmia

An arrhythmia is any irregularity in the beating of the heart. Arrhythmias are most commonly caused by problems within the electrical system of the heart. They can be triggered by physical or emotional stress, as well as certain medications. In some cases, they can also be caused as a result of damage to the heart caused by smoking.

If you suffer from arrhythmia, you may experience palpitations (irregular heartbeat), shortness of breath, chest pain, fainting, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sweating, anxiety, or even loss of consciousness.

Coronary Heart Disease

Smoking increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease. This is due to the fact that it narrows the coronary arteries, reducing the blood supply to the heart.

The effects of this reduction in blood flow include:

  • Reduced oxygen levels
  • Reduced nutrient delivery to the heart muscles
  • Increased workload on the heart
  • Increased likelihood of clot formation
  • Plaque buildup becomes more of a possibility
  • The bigger risk for potential blockages in the coronary arteries
  • Increased likelihood of angina attacks and experiencing a heart attack

In addition, the negative impact smoking has on the cardiovascular system means that smokers are more likely to develop other conditions such as stroke, diabetes, and obesity.

Heart Attack

A heart attack occurs when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked. The resulting lack of blood flow to the heart muscle triggers a chain reaction that eventually results in cell death. This causes permanent damage to the heart tissue.

While smoking does not directly cause a heart attack, smokers have a higher risk of having a heart attack than non-smokers.

Heart Failure

Smoking greatly increases the chances of developing heart failure.  Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood around the body. It can happen because of a number of reasons including:

  • A weakened heart muscle
  • Damage to the valves between the chambers of the heart
  • Congenital defects
  • Diseases that affect the heart muscle
  • Diseases that affect other organs that control the circulation of blood

Smoking is thought to weaken the heart muscle, making it less able to pump effectively. As a result, the amount of blood pumped out of the heart each time it beats decreases. 

Cancer

There is strong evidence linking smoking with cancer of the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, lung, cervix, ovaries, bladder, kidney, prostate, colon, rectum, breast, and thyroid gland.

There is also strong evidence linking smoking with leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphomas, multiple myeloma, melanoma, and mesothelioma.

Other Medical Conditions

Smoking also impacts the immune system, digestive tract, respiratory system, and reproductive organs.  It can cause these systems to become inflamed, leading to various medical conditions including:

  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Skin disorders
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Neurological disorders
  • Psychological disorders
  • Eye disorders

Why Should You Quit?

If you smoke, there are many reasons why you should consider quitting. These include:

  • You will improve your health, enabling you to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life
  • You will reduce your risk of suffering from chronic diseases
  • You will be helping others who do not want to suffer from the harmful effects of tobacco
  • Quitting will also allow you to save money in the long run as buying tobacco and cigarettes continues to become more expensive as time goes on

Conclusion

It is important to understand how smoking affects your overall health. If you continue to smoke, you may experience one or more of the side effects listed above.  You are also increasing your chance of being affected by one of the diseases associated with a risk of the many damaging side effects smoking has on your health. 

By quitting you can lower the risk of ill health as well as protect those around you. If you need assistance with ways to successfully quit smoking you should speak with a medical professional.

They will be able to assist you with creating a plan while also recommending products that may help with your nicotine cravings and other side effects associated with quitting smoking.  It is a long road but if you stay focused on the end goal, of quitting and becoming healthier, you will be able to achieve your goal.

FAQs

What Makes Cigarettes So Toxic and Dangerous?

Cigarettes contain over 4,000 chemicals, some of which are extremely poisonous.  The most common ones found in cigarettes are carbon monoxide, tar, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, nitric oxide, formaldehyde, benzene, arsenic, lead, cadmium, nickel, chromium, and asbestos. 

Some of these chemicals have been linked to serious illnesses such as cancer, birth defects, asthma, emphysema, and heart disease. On a normal day if someone asked you to ingest these lethal chemicals you would not even consider saying yes, yet hundreds of thousands of people choose to do so multiple times a day by smoking.

Why Do People Who Smoke Have A “Smoker’s Cough?”

When someone smokes they inhale a mixture of smoke and air. This causes their lungs to fill with mucus, which then becomes trapped inside the trachea (windpipe). 

Over time this creates a build-up of phlegm and mucus. The build-up often becomes uncomfortable and your body’s natural reaction is to try to clear the blockage by coughing, hence smokers often cough multiple times a day. 

When someone smokes for an extended period of time it can also lead to smoker’s pneumonia which is a very serious condition that in most cases ends in hospitalization.

Is Smoking Addictive?

Yes. Nicotine is highly addictive. In fact, nicotine is considered to be one of the most addictive substances known to man. People who smoke regularly find themselves unable to stop even when they know they shouldn’t.

How Does Smoking Tobacco Affect Children and Teens?

Children and teenagers are especially vulnerable to the dangers of smoking because their bodies are still developing. As a result, they absorb more toxins than adults. Children exposed to secondhand smoke face increased risks of lung infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), among other problems. 

Teens who smoke are at greater risk of learning disabilities, depression, substance abuse, and poor academic performance. They also have higher rates of low self-esteem and body image issues.

What is Secondhand Smoke?

Secondhand smoke is smoke exhaled by smokers into the air near them. Secondhand smoke contains many of the same toxins and carcinogens as cigarette smoke. These include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and particulate matter.