Since 1995 - Non Profit Healthcare Advice

Women Smokers and Heart Disease Risk

Cigarette SmokingSmoking is the most preventable cause of early death in United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that smoking-related diseases cause the deaths of about 174,000 women each year. Women smokers who die of a smoking-related disease lose, on average, 14 years of potential life.

In 2005, more than 20 million American women smoked (17.4% compared to 22.3% of men). Although rates of smoking had been declining, this decrease in smoking rates appears to be stalling.

Smoking is a major cause of heart disease among women:

  • Cigarette smoking has been associated with sudden cardiac death of all types in women.
  • Women who smoke have an increased risk for stroke (blood clot in one of the arteries in the brain) and hemorrhage (bleeding in the area surrounding the brain).
  • Women who smoke have an increased risk for hardening of the blood vessels (atherosclerosis).
  • Women who smoke and use oral contraceptives (birth control pills) greatly increase their risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke compared with nonsmoking women who use oral contraceptives.
  • Women who started smoking before the age of 15 are more likely to suffer a heart attack or die from heart disease than nonsmokers.
  • Risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked and the duration of smoking.
  • Smoking low-tar or low-nicotine cigarettes rather than regular cigarettes appears to have no effect on reducing the risk for CHD.
  • Secondhand smoke increases risk of heart disease by 25% in women who do not smoke.

Women who stop smoking greatly reduce their risk of dying prematurely. Most importantly, quitting smoking is beneficial at all ages:

  • Risk of CHD is cut by one-third within two years of smoking cessation.
  • After 10 to 14 cigarette-free years, heart disease risk is the same as that of a woman who never smoked.
  • Former smokers have the same stroke risk as nonsmokers after 5 to 15 smoke-free years.

Lifestyle modifications recommended for all women to help reduce their risk for heart disease include:

  • Stop smoking cigarettes.
  • Get 30 minutes of physical activity most days.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  • Maintain or reduce body weight.
  • Get treated for depression.

Women can calculate their risk for heart disease by taking the Women’s Heart Disease Risk Quiz (Women’s Heart Foundation).

For More Information:


Go Red for Women Campaign
The Heart Truth: A National Awareness Campaign for Women about Heart Disease
The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women—2005 Edition (PDF 679K)

For more information:

Go to the Smoking and Tobacco health topic.