Lifestyle Changes, Medical

How Tobacco Affects the Heart and Blood Vessels

There are many chemicals in cigarettes and cigarette smoke that can damage your heart and blood vessels. Two chemicals, nicotine and carbon monoxide, interfere with your cardiovascular system’s ability to function properly. Exposure to nicotine and carbon monoxide change your heart and blood vessels in ways that increase your risk of heart and cardiovascular disease.

Nicotine causes your blood vessels to constrict or narrow, which limits the amount of blood that flows to your organs. Over time, the constant constriction results in blood vessels that are stiff and less elastic. Constricted blood vessels decrease the amount of oxygen and nutrients your cells receive. To meet the need for more oxygen, your heart rate may increase.

Carbon monoxide binds hemoglobin, the molecule in your blood that carries oxygen. When carbon monoxide is bound to hemoglobin, oxygen cannot bind. This decreases the amount of oxygen delivered to all of your cells. To provide your body with more oxygen and to pump more blood around your body, your heart may enlarge.

An increased heart rate, an enlarged heart and stiffer and less elastic blood vessels make it harder to pump blood and provide the body with the needed oxygen and nutrients. These changes in the structure and function of your blood vessels and heart increase your risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Exposure to second hand smoke can have these same effects on the heart and blood vessels. When you stop smoking the damage to your heart and blood vessels reverses and your risk of heart disease drops.

It is hard to stop smoking because your body is used to a certain level of nicotine. For this reason, some people find it easier to quit by reducing the number of cigarettes smoked each week. This slowly reduces the level of nicotine in your body and reduces the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. The use of other nicotine products such as nicotine gum, nicotine patch, nicotine inhaler or lozenges can be helpful to get your body used to less nicotine.

Other people find it easier to just stop smoking all at once. Still others find smoking cessation programs or support groups such as 1-800-QUIT-NOW helpful. Your doctor can also prescribe a non-nicotine medication to help you stop smoking.

How you stop smoking does not matter. Choose whatever method or combinations of methods work for you, and adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle.


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