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Smoking Increases Risk of Heart Disease

Cigarette SmokingFor men and women under age 50, cigarette smoking is the most important risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that cigarette smoking greatly contributes to heart and blood vessel problems.

CVD includes high blood pressure, coronary heart disease (CHD: heart attack and angina), congestive heart failure, stroke, and congenital heart defects. Since 1900, CVD and stroke have been the first and third leading causes of death in the United States, respectively.

Smoking is such a significant risk factor that the U.S. Surgeon General has named it “the most preventable cause of disease and deaths in the United States.” Cigarette smoking accounts for about 1 in every 5 deaths each year. It is estimated that 34.7% of these deaths are cardiovascular-related. Atherosclerosis (build up of fatty substances in the arteries) is the number one cause of death from smoking.

Cigarette smoking:

  • damages nearly every organ of the body. (Surgeon General’s 2004 Report)
  • makes the heart beat faster and work harder by decreasing the oxygen carried in the blood. Carbon monoxide and other gases replace the oxygen.
  • damages the coronary arteries, which supply heart muscle tissue with blood and nutrients.
  • damages the flow of blood needed by men to have an erection. Smoking and diabetes are the leading cause of impotency (inability to have an erection).
  • harms the aorta, the large blood vessel that moves blood from the heart to all parts of the body except the lungs.
  • decreases HDL (good) cholesterol.
  • increases the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) for women who use oral contraceptives.
  • works with other risk factors like lack of exercise and high blood pressure that increase the chance of heart disease. It raises blood pressure, decreases exercise tolerance, and increases blood clot formation.
  • is the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death. Smokers have two to four times the risk of nonsmokers.
  • is an important cause of stroke, increasing the risk for an aortic aneurysm. The chance of stroke in heavy smokers (those who smoke more than 40 cigarettes a day) is twice that of light smokers (those who smoke fewer than 10 cigarettes per day.)

Smoking cigars and pipes increases the risk of death from CHD and possibly stroke, but not as much as cigarette smoking. Pipe and cigar smokers may be less likely to inhale the smoke.

Secondhand smoke is smoke coming from another person or a burning cigarette (mainstream or side stream). It increases the risk of heart and blood vessel disease. Secondhand smoke is responsible for a large number of smoking-related deaths. The American Heart Association estimates that about 46,000 nonsmokers die from heart disease caused by other people’s tobacco smoke each year. This happens when people are exposed for long periods of time to secondhand smoke in homes or workplaces.

Men and women can take Healthy Heart Quizzes to learn about the risks of heart disease (American Heart Association).

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    Last Reviewed: Dec 04, 2009

    Professor, College of Nursing
    Professor, College of Public Health

    College of Nursing

    The Ohio State University

    Professor of Health Behaviors & Health Promotion

    College of Public Health

    The Ohio State University

    Professor of Health Behaviors & Health Promotion

    College of Public Health

    The Ohio State University