Cigarette smoking is a direct cause of about one in every five deaths in the United States each year, and while most people associate it most commonly with lung cancer, it’s also a major cause of heart and vein disease. About 20 percent of heart disease deaths in the US can be linked directly to smoking. Smoking can also negatively affect the veins and blood vessels that connect to the heart.
What Kinds of Conditions Can Smoking Cause?
The chemicals found in tobacco smoke harm the blood cells, as well as damage the heart and the function of various blood vessels. Conditions that can be caused by smoking include:
- Atherosclerosis: This condition is characterized by waxy plaque built up in the arteries that harden over time. This hardening narrows the arteries and limits the flow of blood to other parts of the body and cuts off their oxygen.
- Coronary artery disease (CAD): Plaque buildup in the coronary arteries leads to CAD, which can lead to chest pain, heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmias and even death.
- Heart disease: Smoking is a major factor in the development of heart disease, along with others like cholesterol, blood pressure and weight.
- Peripheral artery disease: A condition in which plaque builds up in arteries that carry blood to the head, organs and limbs. It increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Secondhand Smoke and Other Forms
Secondhand smoke is the smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar or tobacco pipe, or the smoke that’s breathed out by someone who is actively smoking. Secondhand smoke contains many of the same harmful chemicals as standard tobacco smoke, and can damage the heart and blood vessels of people who don’t even smoke themselves.
In addition, secondhand smoke raises children and teens’ risk of future CAD. This is due to the way it lowers good cholesterol, raises blood pressure and damages tissues in the heart.
Secondhand smoke risks are especially high for premature babies with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) and children with breathing conditions like asthma. While researchers are unsure about the exact effects of cigar and pipe smoke, these contain the same chemicals, and people who smoke cigars have been shown to be at a higher risk for heart disease.
Benefits of Quitting and Avoidance
Quitting smoking, or avoiding starting in the first place, can be very beneficial to heart and vein health. Avoiding secondhand smoke can have many of the same effects. Here are some of these benefits:
- Reduce the risk of developing or dying from heart disease
- Reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and blood clots in veins
- Reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death
- Reduce the risk of a second heart attack if you’ve already had a first
- Reduce the risk of death from other chronic illnesses
Many workplaces or communities have banned smoking completely, and heart attacks in these communities dropped significantly.
Your doctor can offer additional recommendations or information about how smoking affects your veins and heart.
“How Does Smoking Affect the Heart and Blood Vessels?” National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/smo
“Smoking and Heart Disease.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/smoking-heart-disease#1