Following on from our focus on keeping your heart healthy and to support the government's Stoptober campaign one of our Specialist Cardiology Manager, Steve Robinson, has been talking about smoking, how it can affect your heart and how it works.
“The effects of smoking have been well publicised for years, but still millions continue buy and smoke cigarettes every year. Working in the medical profession I’ve been able to see first-hand the effects on a person’s body, and how dangerous it can be.
“There are lots of facts that quickly show the risks. Did you know that smokers lose an average of 16 years from their lives? Or that smoking kills around 80,000 people in England every year?(1) That’s almost enough people to fill Wembley Stadium!
“You don’t have to be a heavy smoker to be at risk. A study in America found that smoking between one and four cigarettes a day increases the risk of heart disease almost as much as smoking a pack a day(2). Even for ‘casual’ or ‘weekend’ smokers, every time you breathe in cigarette smoke you are causing damage.
“The chemicals used in cigarettes damage the walls of the arteries that connect to your heart. This causes a build up of fatty plaque, which will harden and narrow the arteries, restricting the blood flow. These plaque build ups can also burst, which can block the artery, causing a heart attack.
“Smoking also makes the blood more likely to thicken and clot, and can narrow your blood vessels. Both of these effects can increase the risk of a heart attack, which happens when blood cannot flow properly through the heart to be pumped back out.
“Smoking cigarettes increases your heart’s demand for oxygen, but at the same time reduces the supply of oxygen in the blood by narrowing your arteries, which again restricts the flow. This will force your heart to work harder in order to pump blood around your body. Over time, that extra strain damages the heart muscle.
“Your heart works very hard normally, but smoking makes it have to work much harder simply to carry oxygen around in your blood. You may know some people who go through life as a smoker with little apparent effect on their health, but the reality is that the damage inside is there, and there’s no way to tell how anyone might be affected by that. For some people, the results will be far more serious.
“A smoker is more than twice as likely as a non smoker to die from heart disease, and people who smoke are also far more susceptible to cancer, stroke, or many other health problems(3).
“Some of the damage caused by smoking happens the moment you light the cigarettes. As you inhale the blood begins to thicken and arteries will stiffen with the intake of chemicals, nicotine and tar. Your body immediately responds to this influx of harmful products.
What happens to your heart when you stop smoking?
“The good news is that as soon as you stop smoking, your body will begin to recover and repair itself. Twenty minutes after putting out a cigarette your blood pressure and heart rate will return to normal, and after only 48 hours there is no nicotine in the body, and your sense of taste and smell will improve.
“As time goes on the improvements continue, and within the first few months your circulation will improve, meaning blood will move around your body more easily, and your lung function will also get better. After 10 years without smoking, your risk of a heart attack falls to the same rate as a person who has never smoked(4).
“Smoking is a habit, and products like nicotine create a dependency. It can be very difficult to give up smoking, but there are a range of products and services available to support people through the process.
“As with improving your diet or fitness, or making any change to your lifestyle, giving up smoking is a choice that an individual has to make, and take responsibility for. No one else can quit for you or make you do it, but the strength you’ll find in giving up for three days, or a week, or the first month, will spur you onwards.
“As cited by the government’s Stoptober campaign, if you can stay smoke free for 28 days you are then five times more likely to give up for good. The list of detrimental effects smoking has on your health and lifestyle, as well as that of your family and friends, is very long, but with will power you can give up cigarettes for good and reap the benefits. So what are you waiting for?