Smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease (heart, stroke and blood vessel disease). Smoking kills 22,700 Australians a year (more than 60 Australians each day).
Smoking damages the heart and blood vessels
The heart relies on a generous supply of oxygen and nutrients from the coronary arteries and their branches. Over the time, fatty deposits (called plaque or atheroma) can build up inside one or more of the coronary arteries (a process called atherosclerosis). This narrowing of the arteries reduces the flow of blood to the heart and increases the risk of heart attack. Smoking speeds up the clogging and narrowing of coronary arteries.
A heart attack occurs when a blood clot forms at a narrowed point in a coronary artery and suddenly blocks the flow of blood to the heart. If the artery remains blocked, the lack of blood supply permanently damages the area of heart muscle supplied by that artery. The severity of the heart attack depends on how much heart muscle is permanently damaged.
Smoking also damages other blood vessels. This ‘peripheral arterial disease’ can reduce blood circulation, particularly to your hands and feet, and result in blood clots, gangrene and even amputation.
Some facts about cigarette smoke
Cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals including:
- nicotine – an addictive drug that affects brain and muscle activity and increases your blood pressure, making your heart work harder
- carbon monoxide – a poisonous gas that replaces oxygen in your blood, reducing its ability to carry oxygen to your heart and other organs
- tar – a sticky substance that coats your lungs like soot in a chimney, making it harder for you to breathe. Tar contains dozens of chemicals that cause cancer.
The risks of cigarette smoking
If you smoke, your risk of:
- heart attack is twice as high as someone who does not smoke
- coronary heart disease is increased if you are a woman using the contraceptive pill
- stroke is three times higher than someone who does not smoke
- peripheral arterial disease, which can lead to gangrene, is increased by more than five times.
Second-hand smoke is a health hazard
Exposure to second-hand smoke (passive smoking) is a serious health hazard for smokers and non-smokers. People who inhale smoke from others are at increased risk of disease.
Non-smokers living with smokers have about a 30 per cent increase in risk of heart disease.
Exposure to second-hand smoke is especially risky for children and babies, and increases the risk of sudden unexplained death in infants (SUDI), bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma.
Quit smoking and improve your health
Within one day of quitting smoking:
- your heart rate slows down and your blood pressure drops slightly
- carbon monoxide is out of your blood
- oxygen levels in your blood rise.
Within two to three months:
- your ability to smell and taste improves
- your lungs regain the ability to clean themselves, so you can cough up mucus
- the blood flow to your hands and feet improves, so they won’t get so cold.
Within one year:
- your risk of heart attack is greatly reduced
- if you smoked a packet of 25s a day, you would have saved over $14,000
Within two to six years:
- your risk of developing coronary heart disease returns to a similar level as that of a non-smoker.
Where to get help
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