12 January 2009

How smoking affects your heart

In South Africa, seven million people smoke, 80% have tried to quit at least once and 90% of people started smoking before the age of 18. Here's how it affects your heart health.


In South Africa, seven million people smoke, 80% have tried to quit at least once and 90% of people started smoking before the age of 18. A child growing up in a smoker’s house has inhaled 102 packs by his 5th birthday.

Smoking is the single greatest cause of heart disease. Smoking, obesity, lack of physical activity and a poor diet all take their toll on the heart. The compound effect increases the risk of cardiac incident exponentially. Cigarette smokers also face a greatly increased risk of respiratory disease.

The detrimental effects of smoking
Smoking narrows the blood vessels and enlarges the naturally occurring blood clots, thus causing clogged arteries and restriction of blood to the heart. Cholesterol is more likely to be trapped in the lining of the blood vessels and forms plaques, which could further restrict blood flow. Smoking can also increase blood pressure and the carbon monoxide formed during smoking, reducing the oxygen in the blood.

Smoking increases the risk of heart disease by two or three times and by 10 times for a woman on oral contraceptives. Smoking doubles the risk of stroke and takes an average of 14 years off your life span.

Passive smoking is the result of non-smokers breathing smoke produced by a smoker. Non-smokers who breathe second-hand smoke suffer many of the diseases of active smoking. Only 30 minutes of exposure can damage a non-smoker’s heart and increases the risk of heart disease by 30%.

Never too late to quit
The good news is that it is never too late to benefit from giving up smoking. Some of the harmful effects of smoking are reversible. Within eight hours of giving up smoking, blood oxygen levels and carbon monoxide levels return to normal. Within days, blood clotting improves and within three weeks, exercising becomes easier. Within five to 15 years, the risk of heart disease is the same as someone who has never smoked.

Eight out of 10 people find it most effective to stop smoking abruptly. Stay motivated; the first few days are always the hardest. It is important when planning to quit smoking that you find support, either in a group or with some friends and family.

Help your friends and family to understand that you might be irritable and difficult because of the craving and that this will improve over time. Where possible, avoid other smokers and smoke-filled environments. Think of things to do when you normally would have smoked, in order to distract you and keep your mind off smoking.

Even an occasional cigarette or passive smoking increases your risk for heart disease; there is no safe level of smoking. The more you smoke, the greater the risk and the sooner you quit, the sooner you can reduce your risk of heart disease.

Source: The Heart Foundation of South Africa

Read more:
Smoking and heart disease
The evils of smoking


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