Harmful Effects of Smoking on the Heart

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the adverse effects from smoking tobacco account for nearly 443,000 deaths each year, or one in five of all deaths in the United States. Smoking tobacco causes a wide variety of health problems, such as heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, multiple other types of cancer and adverse reproductive effects. The detrimental effects of smoking on the heart specifically are well documented and were first recognized by the surgeon general in 1964.

Coronary Heart Disease

According to the American Heart Association, smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and physical inactivity are the six major independent risk factors for developing coronary heart disease. Smoking can cause heart disease all on its own and the surgeon general has listed it as the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the United States. Cigarette smoke causes the blood vessels to constrict, which force the heart to work harder to pump blood to the body, raising the heart rate. Chemicals found within cigarette smoke damage the lining of blood vessels that feed the heart, and start a process of fatty buildup called atherosclerosis. This process can eventually block and stop blood flow to the heart, leading to a heart attack. Carbon monoxide, a byproduct of smoking tobacco, raises blood cholesterol, which in turn contributes to the atherosclerosis process.

Blood Clots

In addition to contributing to atherosclerosis, the chemicals in tobacco smoke also cause blood platelets to clump together, making the blood thicker and stickier. In conjunction with atherosclerosis, this blood stickiness can lead to clot formation that can block coronary arteries, causing damage and death of heart muscle tissue. These clots can also travel to the brain and cause stroke. A stroke is defined by a blockage of one of the arteries in the brain that causes brain tissue to die.

High Blood Pressure

According to the National Institutes of Health, smoking can cause temporary high blood pressure by constricting the blood vessels. As the arteries become narrowed and constricted because of chemicals within tobacco smoke, the heart must pump harder to push the same amount of blood out to the body. With continued and long-term smoking, the resulting high blood pressure will cause enlargement and damage to the heart muscle.

Aneurysm

Tobacco smoke causes a weakening and bulging in the walls of the blood vessels, especially the main artery that leaves the heart, called the aorta. According to the surgeon general’s report of 2004, 15,000 people die each year of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. And aneurysm causes disrupted blood flow and can add additional strain to the heart. If an aortic aneurysm bursts, it is almost always fatal because of the large volume of blood that leaves the heart and travels through this great vessel.

About this Author

Dr. Blake Biddulph received his chiropractic degree from Parker College of Chiropractic in Dallas in 2007 and has been practicing as a chiropractic physician in Provo, Utah, ever since. He has a special interest in spinal rehabilitation and treats patients with a variety of neck and back conditions. He has been writing health-related articles and newsletters for several years.