Stop Smoking

Smoking and Heart Disease

We often hear about how smoking hurts the lungs. After all, smokers’ lungs take in more than 7,000 chemicals—70  of which are known to cause cancer—from cigarettes. But smoking cigarettes also affects the heart and blood vessels and remains one of the most preventable causes of heart disease.

When you smoke, your arteries tighten, which makes your heart work harder. Smoking also can trigger an irregular heart rhythm and raise blood pressure, which are leading causes of stroke.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking:
  • Causes thickening and narrowing of blood vessels
  • Raises triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood)
  • Lowers HDL or "good" cholesterol
  • Makes blood sticky and more likely to clot, which can block blood flow to the heart and brain
  • Damages the cells that line the blood vessels; the cells become swollen and inflamed
  • Promotes the buildup of plaque (fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances) in blood vessels and even plaque rupture (resulting in an heart attack)

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A recent study found smoking is also associated with a thickening of the heart and lowers the heart's pumping ability—both of which are associated with heart failure. The longer and more cigarettes people without heart disease smoked, the greater the damage to their hearts' structure and function. Former smokers had similar heart structure and function compared to people who had never smoked, which points to the importance of quitting smoking to help reverse any damage.

Smoking is only part of the puzzle

In addition to efforts to quit smoking or avoid breathing in secondhand smoke, be sure to look at other ways you can live healthier and lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and other health issues.

For example, try to:
  • Exercise regularly
  • Be mindful about eating heart-healthy foods
  • Get to a healthy body weight
  • Manage stress
  • Limit alcohol (≤1 a day for women; ≤2 for men )
  • Ensure other health conditions, such as diabetes, are under control or being addressed
  • Manage other risk factors for cardiovascular disease
  • Keep up with routine and follow-up health visits
  • Stay current with vaccinations


Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have been growing in popularity. Until lately, some also thought they were safer than traditional cigarettes. But electronic cigarettes may be as harmful to the heart as smoking cigarettes that contain tobacco, according to some data.

Research showed that using either e-cigs or regular tobacco led to similar levels of stiffness in the aorta, the main artery in the heart, and both raised blood pressure.

Published: January 2017
Medical Reviewers: Kelly M. Bartsch, PharmD, BCPS, CLS; Martha Gulati, MD, MS, FACC, FAHA, FASPC, Editor-in Chief of CardioSmart; Kathleen M. Love, MD, FACC

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