Most people know that smoking is bad for your lungs and can cause cancer.
However, fewer may be aware of the effects of smoking on the heart and the
circulatory system—the arteries and veins that carry the blood throughout the
body. The July 2, 2003, issue of JAMA includes an article about
the beneficial effects of quitting smoking on the heart and circulatory system.
Cigarette smoking is the main preventable cause of premature death in
the developed world. It accounts for more than 440, 000 deaths every year
in the United States.
When you smoke, toxic chemicals from tobacco enter your bloodstream.
Some of these chemicals send signals to your heart to beat harder and faster.
Smoking also causes blood vessels to constrict (become
more narrow), forcing blood to travel through a smaller space. Both of these
effects cause temporary high blood pressure. Long-term smokers may eventually
develop high blood pressure all of the time because of their smoking. Smoking
also increases bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) and lowers good cholesterol
(high-density lipoprotein) in your body, and increases the likelihood of plaques (fatty buildups) collecting on the inside of blood
vessels, a condition called atherosclerosis (hardening
of the arteries). Smoking also increases the risk of thrombosis (blood clots blocking a blood vessel). Over time, these effects increase
the risk of having a myocardial infarction (heart
Smoking can also increase the risk of having a stroke (sudden blockage of blood circulation in the brain). A stroke is usually
caused by a blood clot getting lodged in the blood vessels supplying the brain
with blood and oxygen. When this happens, brain cells begin to die. This can
cause permanent brain damage or even death. In smokers, because blood vessels
are narrower, blood clots have a higher chance of causing strokes or heart
attacks. Women who smoke and use oral contraceptives (birth
control pills) are at a much higher risk of developing heart disease or having
a stroke than women taking oral contraceptives who do not smoke.
Reduces risk for heart disease by almost half and reduces chances
of having heart-related problems if you already have heart disease
Reduces risk of having a blood clot
Reduces chances of developing several different kinds of cancer
Reduces risk of developing emphysema,
a serious lung disease that impairs breathing
Improves stamina for exercising and participating in sports
Improves senses of taste and smell
Quitting smoking can be a difficult process but is well worth the effort.
A number of prescription and nonprescription aids to help you quit are available.
If you are still smoking, talk with your doctor about it!
American Heart Association 800/242-8721 http://www.americanheart.org
American Lung Association 212/315-8700 http://www.lungusa.org
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the
Patient Page link on JAMA 's Web site at http://jama.ama-assn.org. A Patient Page on lung cancer was published in the January 15, 2003,
issue, and one on quitting smoking was published in the July 24/31, 2002,
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA . The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate
in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For
specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied
noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share
with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject to AMA approval.
To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.
Sources: American Heart Association, American Lung Association, National
Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Cancer Institute
Parmet S, Lynm C, Glass RM. Smoking and the Heart. JAMA. 2003;290(1):146. doi:10.1001/jama.290.1.146