How Does Smoking Damage Your Heart?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.[1] About every 25 seconds, someone in the U.S. will have a coronary event. And every minute, someone will die from a coronary event.[2] Smoking is a major cause of  heart disease for both men and women. Breathing tobacco smoke causes changes in your blood. Your triglyceride level rises, and your “good cholesterol” level falls. The chemicals in tobacco smoke also prevent your body from repairing damaged places in the lining of your arteries. Clots are more likely to form in a damaged artery.[4] Smoking is one cause of dangerous plaque buildup inside your arteries. Plaque is made of cholesterol and scar tissue. It clogs and narrows your arteries. This can trigger chest pain, weakness, heart attack, or stroke. Plaque can rupture and cause clots that block arteries. Completely blocked arteries can cause sudden death.[4] Tobacco  smoke poses a serious risk, even to nonsmokers. Secondhand smoke causes nearly 34,000 premature deaths from heart disease each year in the U.S. among nonsmokers.[5] Inhaling someone else’s tobacco smoke could be enough to block arteries and trigger a heart attack in someone whose arteries are silently clogged.[4] Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent.[6] While cigarette smoking alone can increase the risk of heart disease, when coupled with other factors like high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, inactivity, poor diet, family history and obesity, the risk is greatly increased.[7] Even young smokers are at risk. Smoking during adolescence and young adulthood causes early damage to the abdominal aorta, the large artery that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart through the abdomen to major organs. Young adults who have only been smoking for a few years can show signs of narrowing of this large artery.[8] What happens to my heart if I quit smoking? Within 12 hours, the level of poisonous carbon monoxide in the body from cigarettes returns to normal. In other words, the benefits of quitting begin immediately.[9] After one year, your risk of heart attack is half that of a continuing smoker’s risk.[4] Fifteen years after quitting, your risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker’s.[10]  
[1] Heron MP, Hoyert DL, Murphy SL, Xu JQ, Kochanek KD, Tejada-Vera B.Deaths: Final data for 2006. National Vital Statistics Reports. 2009;57(14). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. [2] Roger V, Go, A, Lloyd-Jones, D, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2011 update. a report from the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee.Circulation2011;123:e1-e192. [3] American Heart Association. Cigarette Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease. http://www.americanheart.com/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4545 [4] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A Report of the Surgeon General: How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: What It Means to You. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2010 [5] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014 [6] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Let’s Make the Next Generation Tobacco-Free: Your Guide to the 50th Anniversary Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014 [7] WebMD.Smoking and Heart Disease. Last Reviewed: Sept. 15, 2014. www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/quit-smoking-heart#sthash.gwtJWtU0.dpuf [8] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coordinating Center for Health Promotion, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2006 [9] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: Nicotine Addiction: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 1988 [10] Tobacco Control: Reversal of Risk After Quitting Smoking. IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention, Vol. 11. 2007. p 11