While most people know that cigarette smoking is the primary cause of lung cancer cancer, what many people don’t know is that most premature deaths due to smoking are actually due to coronary heart disease rather than lung cancer. It is estimated that 20% of all deaths from heart disease are attributable to cigarette smoking.
Smoking has many effects on the body that lead to increased coronary heart disease risk. First, toxic substances in cigarettes such as carbon-monoxide, nicotine, and aromatic hydrocarbons lead to inflammation of the arteries and blood vessels in the body. The build up of plaque in the arteries and scarring of the arterial walls due to this inflammation leads to atherosclerosis which is a strong risk factor was heart disease.
Nicotine in cigarettes also causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate as well as increasing LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) and decreasing HDL (the “good” cholesterol). Smoking also reduces the bloods ability to transfer oxygen to and from the heart which results in reduced aerobic fitness.
Studies estimate that smokers have between two and four times the risk of developing heart disease than those who have never smoked. Smokers also have around three times increased risk of other cardiovascular diseases such as strokes, peripheral arterial disease, and aneurysms.
The good news is that within two years of stopping smoking, a third of the excess risk of coronary heart disease attributed to smoking is eliminated. For the average smoker, after 15 years without smoking, the risk of coronary heart disease is almost the same as for someone who has never smoked. The longer the duration of smoking and the earlier an individual begins smoking, the longer it takes for the increased cardiovascular risks to disappear.
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