This February, aka Heart Month, learn what smoking does to your heart

February 1, 2014 | by

February may be popularly known as the month of love, but it also holds the title of American Heart Month, aiding as a reminder to take care of your heart. One way is to quit smoking.

Heart disease and cigarettes

Take care of your heart by giving up cigarettes. It will lower your risk of heart disease.

Not only do cigarettes cause 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States, they also contribute to America’s biggest killer: heart disease.

Nearly 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, with almost 20 percent of those deaths directly related to cigarette smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Brian Tiep, M.D., director of pulmonary rehabilitation and smoking cessation at City of Hope, said smoking affects the heart by:

  • Increasing blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increasing blood clotting
  • Decreasing oxygen to the heart
  • Damaging cells that line coronary arteries and other blood vessels
  • Lowering HDL, the "good" cholesterol
  • Damaging heart muscle

All of these factors increase the risk of coronary heart disease, which over time, can lead to chest pain, heart failure, arrhythmias, heart attack and even death.

Cigarettes don’t just affect a smoker’s heart. They also increase the risk of heart disease among people exposed to secondhand smoke.

The CDC estimates that nearly 46,000 nonsmokers die from heart disease each year as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke can also cause chronic respiratory conditions and cancer.

Regardless of how much, or how long, you've smoked, it’s never too late to quit. Giving up the habit for good can have tremendous benefits.

Early benefits on heart rate and blood pressure are rather immediate,” Tiep said, “although most benefits require more time.”

In the first year of quitting, your risk for heart attack drops tremendously. Within two to five years after quitting, the risk for a stroke tends to fall to about the same risk faced by nonsmokers, and after 10 years of not smoking, your risk for lung cancer drops by half.

So show your heart some love this Valentine’s Day and quit smoking for good.