Smoking is widely regarded as the most important risk factor in the development of heart attacks and stroke.
Studies dating back to the 1980’s have clearly demonstrated a link between smoking and the development of heart attacks in the Indian population.
In the United States, 1 out of every 5 deaths is linked to smoking. In fact, the American Heart Association have designated smoking as the primary cause of early death from heart disease. The link between smoking and heart disease is very strong.
Recently published statistics now show that over 11 crore people in India now smoke, with an increase of over 35 million in the last 30 years!
Interestingly, the number of women smokers seems to have gone up dramatically as well. The World Health Organization states that India forms around 12% of the world’s smokers.
In 2009, over 9 lakh people died in one year. These statistics are no doubt alarming.
But there is good news. Smoking is a reversible cause of heart disease. In other words, death from smoking cigarettes is totally preventable.
How Does Smoking Affect The Heart?
Smoking affects the heart in numerous ways.
Cigarette, cigar and beedi smoke contains a high concentration of harmful toxins in it. These toxins can damage the normal cells that protect the heart muscle and the blood vessels.
The free radicals that are present in tobacco smoke can start a vicious cycle of effects that lead to deposition of fat and platelets (cells responsible for blood clotting) onto the wall of the blood vessel. This ultimately leads to atherosclerosis – a condition where there is narrowing of the arteries in the body due to the deposition of fat and other cells on the inner walls.
Atherosclerosis is the main cause of heart attacks.
But the effect of smoking is not just limited to the heart.
Smoking can cause thickening of the airways within the lungs, making an individual breathless. Smokers are unable to inhale enough oxygen into their body, which means they have low oxygen levels in the blood.
The low oxygen levels are detected by the heart, and it starts to pump harder so that all the vital organs can get the oxygen it needs to function normally. While the heart can sustain this extra work for a while, it can ultimately become tired. This can make the heart susceptible to damage from heart attacks or heart failure.
Here is a short animation video on the effects of smoking of your body.
Smoking has other effects on the body, some of which are important to be aware of.
- Increased risk of stroke
- Increased risk of arterial disease (peripheral artery disease, aortic aneurysm)
- Increased chances of developing different types of cancer
- Early skin aging
- Reduced ability to exercise
- Unhealthy weight loss
- Increased blood cholesterol levels. Good cholesterol levels can decrease and bad cholesterol levels can increase.
Clearly, smoking is harmful to health. It is in no way ‘cool’.
Active Vs. Passive smoking
Active smokers are those who light the cigarette and smoke directly from it. Passive smokers are people near smokers who inhale the smoke that is blown out by active smokers.
Take for example a male member of the family is a smoker. His children and remaining family members in the house are exposed to the smoke he breathes out. This smoke can damage their heart, lungs and blood vessels.
Clinical research has shown that passive smokers are also highly likely to develop heart disease due to the harmful effects of the smoke. It is believed that the risk increases by 25 – 30%!
This effect is not just limited to an individuals household, but also to those who are exposed to smoke in public places.
In 2008, the Indian government places a nationwide public smoking ban in places such as hospitals, public transport, cinemas and auditoriums. Other places now have designated smoking areas (such as airports) where people can smoke without exposing others to passive smoking.
In the United States, over 38,000 people die every year from disease caused by passive smoking. Statistics in India are still limited, but it is believed that close to 1 million people die each year from smoking.
Its Time To Quit
It is clear that smoking is an important risk factor for heart disease. Best of all, it is never too late to stop smoking.
In a clinical study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), individuals who stopped smoking benefited from a 47% reduction in their risk of death from heart disease within 5 years of doing so!
In addition, there was a 27% reduction in risk of dying from a stroke.
Smokers who start at an early age tend to die from smoke related causes a lot earlier. For example, a person who starts at the age of 18 years dies earlier than someone who starts in their 50’s.
Stopping smoking has numerous other benefits as well.
- Decreases the chances of developing blood clots
- Decreases the chance of developing cancer
- Reduces chances of developing chronic lung diseases like emphysema
- Increases stamina and exercise tolerance
- Increases energy to perform daily activities
There are a number of different ways a person can stop smoking. If you wish to learn more, click here.
Updated on 27th March, 2017 by Dr Vivek Baliga