How Smoking Impacts the Circulatory System

Smoking can cause extensive damage to all aspects of health. However, in relation to the circulatory system, smoking is frequently the reason for many diseases of the heart, and it damages the blood vessels, poisons the blood and creates havoc within the lungs.

It is a well known fact that to imbibe any tobacco product is detrimental to health, but it is the tailor made cigarettes that bring about the most damage, and they are among the most expensive tobacco product on the market. Surprisingly, it is these that are the most popular.

Smoking reduces the body’s oxygen supply and of course, the problem begins inside the lungs, and this is mainly due to the tar and carbon monoxide within cigarettes. Tar accumulates in the lungs and restricts the area available for the absorption of oxygen. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas and it is carried across the membranes of the alveoli, which are the small air sacs within the lungs, into the tiny blood vessels known as capillaries and then the poison is transported around the body in the blood stream.

One of the most common illnesses of the lungs related to smoking is chronic bronchitis which affects the bronchi within the lungs. Excessive mucus accumulates and obstructs the smaller structures known as the bronchioles, a great deal of difficulty in breathing occurs and this causes an increase in pressure within the alveoli and if this becomes severe enough to rupture the alveolar membranes, then another more serious disease known as emphysema occurs.

Emphysema is common among people who have been heavy smokers for a number of years, and this condition causes a reduction in the gaseous exchange of carbon dioxide from the capillaries into the alveoli and of oxygen from the alveoli into the capillary blood. Increased resistance within the lungs can ultimately lead to right sided heart failure.

Right sided heart failure occurs when the right ventricle, which is one of the four chambers of the heart’s interior, cannot contract strongly enough to empty itself of blood. The right atrium, the chamber above the right ventricle, and the vena cavae (this refers to the superior and inferior vena cava which are two large veins that deliver blood into the heart) become congested with blood and this creates further congestion throughout the systemic circulation.

The carbon monoxide within cigarettes attaches itself to the erythrocytes, commonly known as red blood cells, this restricts the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, and therefore insufficient oxygen reaches the cells of the body. Given that oxygen is the energy force for the fuel needed within the tissues, this predicament results in a lack of energy required for the necessary functions of a healthy body.

The tar within cigarettes transports other chemicals into the body, and in combination can cause atheroma which is a build up of plaque within the large and medium sized arteries. This occurs mainly in the coronary arteries as well as those within the brain and renal system, the small intestines and the legs. As well as being a problem in itself, in that plaque can obstruct the blood flow, an atheroma can give rise to thrombosis, commonly known as a blood clot, and this is because the plaque can cause the arterial wall to rupture. When this occurs, the platelets, which are the clotting factor of the blood, become stimulated and can create a thrombosis. Pieces of the clot break away and travel within the blood vessels and they can become wedged in the smaller vessels, and this can then cause an infarct, meaning tissue damage, and sometimes tissue death, due to a lack of blood supply.

There are in excess of four thousand chemicals in cigarettes, and only one of these, the nicotine, is addictive. Nicotine is among the less damaging of the chemicals but not completely harmless, as is commonly believed. Nicotine stimulates the central nervous system causing an increase in heart rate.

These are only a few of the diseases and conditions that smoking causes within the circulatory system alone. The havoc wreaked within the body as a whole is colossal. Cigarette smoking is responsible for numerous complications ranging from mild ailments such as gum disease to fatal conditions such as terminal lung cancer.