Smoking and Heart Disease
People who smoke are up to 3 times more likely to have heart disease as people who don’t smoke, and twice as likely to have a heart attack. Tobacco use is a major case of coronary artery disease, which is a leading cause of death in the United States.
Smoking narrows your blood vessels, which reduces circulation. This can lead to peripheral vascular disease (obstruction of the arteries in your arms and legs). Peripheral vascular disease can cause pain, tissue loss or gangrene.
In addition to heart disease and peripheral vascular disease, other effects of smoking include damage to the lungs, eyes, mouth, reproductive organs, bones and digestive organs.
Benefits of Smoking Cessation
To reduce your risk of heart disease, one of the most important things you can do is to quit smoking. A year after you quit smoking, your risk of heart disease will be half what it was when you were still a smoker. In 15 years, your heart disease risk will be almost the same as that of someone who has never smoked.
Smoking cessation can be as beneficial in decreasing your risk of heart disease as aspirin, cholesterol-lowering medications and blood pressure medications.
How to Quit Smoking
Although smoking cessation can be difficult, millions of Americans have successfully kicked the habit. The following strategies may help you to quit smoking:
- Get motivated: Make a list of reasons why you want to quit smoking and put it in a prominent place. Think about how much money you will save and what you will spend it on. Remove cigarettes, ashtrays and lighters from your car.
- Combat your smoking triggers: If eating a meal, driving, or feeling stressed trigger your cigarette cravings, develop a plan to deal with those triggers. For example, take a short walk after meals, turn up the radio and sing along while driving, or buy a stress ball to squeeze when you are feeling stressed.
- Enlist support: Choose a “quit” date and tell your family and friends.
- Use nicotine replacement therapy or prescription medications: You can buy nicotine patches, gum or lozenges over the counter at the drug store. Your doctor can also prescribe medications that may help with cravings.
At Wake Forest Baptist, we encourage our patients to talk to their primary care provider about all their options to help quit smoking to reduce their risk of heart disease. When a heart condition is present, that may include a heart or vascular specialist, nurse specialists and others.