How smoking affects your heart

World No Tobacco Day is held each year on May 31st by the World Health Organization (WHO). And this year the campaign’s focus is to increase the awareness of tobacco and how it’s linked to heart and other cardiovascular diseases (CVDs).

The WHO suggests that, while smoking and other forms of tobacco use are an important risk factor for the development of coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease, there’s still a lack of awareness of that fact among large sections of the public.

For instance, did you know that CVDs kill more people than any other cause of death worldwide, and that tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure contribute to approximately 12 per cent of al heart disease deaths? Indeed, tobacco use is the second leading cause of CVD after high blood pressure, says the WHO.

So how exactly does smoking damage your heart? According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), here’s what happens to your heart and cardiovascular system when you smoke:

  • The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood. This means your heart has to pump harder to supply your body with the oxygen it needs.
  • Nicotine found in cigarettes triggers the production of adrenaline, which also makes your heart work harder by making it beat faster and by raising your blood pressure.
  • Smoking damages the lining of your arteries, causing a build-up of fatty material (atheroma) that makes your arteries more narrow. This can cause angina, a heart attack or a stroke.
  • If you smoke your blood is also more likely to clot, which means you have a higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Even if you don’t smoke, being around someone who is smoking can be harmful for your heart, says the BHF. The charity claims that research shows exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke is a cause of heart disease in non-smokers too.

Chewing tobacco isn’t a healthier alternative to smoking either, as it can increase your risk of mouth cancer, throat cancer and cancer of the oesophagus. It’s also not good for your oral health, as it can make your teeth more susceptible to tooth decay and can cause tooth loss.

Need to quit?

If you’re thinking of giving up smoking, your local Careway pharmacist can help. As well as offering lots of tips to give you the best chance of quitting, your pharmacist can give you advice on stop-smoking aids that have been shown to help with nicotine withdrawal. Called nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products, these include patches, gum, lozenges, nasal sprays, microtabs and inhalators. If you’re not sure which of these would be best for you, your pharmacist can help you choose the method that would most suit your needs and your lifestyle.

You can buy a range of NRT products from your local pharmacy. However if you want to try tablets that may help reduce your cigarette cravings, these are only available on prescription (ask your GP for more information).

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.