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How smoking thickens blood vessels and damages the heart

Even people who smoke less than five cigarettes a day can show signs of cardiovascular disease. Smoking harms blood vessels, causing them to thicken and constrict, limiting blood flow. This causes the heart to race and the blood pressure to rise, says Dr Suranjit Chatterjee, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi

More than eight million people die each year from the tobacco epidemic. (Photo source: Pexels)

More than eight million people die each year from the tobacco epidemic, which includes around 1.2 million deaths from exposure to second-hand smoke, making it one of the greatest threats to global public health.

The most prevalent method of tobacco use worldwide is cigarette smoking. Toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke reach a smoker’s brain, heart, and other organs within 10 seconds of the first puff. Tobacco use harms almost every organ of the body and increases the risk of various diseases.

There is no such thing as a safe way to smoke. Using a cigar, pipe or hookah instead of a cigarette will not help to avoid the health risks. Water pipe tobacco, cigars, cigarillos, roll-your-own tobacco, pipe tobacco, bidis, and kreteks are among the other tobacco products. Cigarettes have approximately 600 ingredients, many of which are also found in other tobacco products.

According to the American Lung Association, when these ingredients burn, they produce over 7,000 chemicals. Many of these chemicals are toxic, and at least 69 have been linked to cancer.

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Harmful effects of smoking on various organs

Tobacco smoke is extremely hazardous to health. Cigarette-smoking is considered a major risk factor in the development of lung cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in men and women around the world. Significant progress has been made using modern genetic technologies to investigate the relationship between tobacco smoke exposure and disease development in human populations. In any tobacco product, whether it be acetone, tar, nicotine, or carbon monoxide, there are no safe ingredients. Tobacco use can cause several complications in the human body, as well as long-term effects on the organs. While smoking increases the risk of a variety of problems over time, some of the physical consequences are more immediate.

Peripheral Arterial Diseases

Cigarette-smoking harms the entire cardiovascular system as it changes the blood chemistry. Even people who smoke less than five cigarettes a day can show signs of cardiovascular disease. Smoking harms blood vessels, causing them to thicken and constrict, limiting blood flow. This causes the heart to race and the blood pressure to rise. Peripheral artery disease can develop over time as a result of ongoing narrowing and damage to the blood vessels. Plaque formation is accelerated.

Smoking also increases blood pressure, weakens blood vessel walls and develops blood clot formation. Together, this raises the risk of a stroke and coronary heart disease. Smoking-related blockages can also reduce blood flow to the legs and skin. When the chemicals in cigarette smoke cause atherosclerosis, it becomes more difficult for blood cells to move through arteries and other blood vessels to get to vital organs like the heart and brain. This can create blood clots and ultimately lead to a heart attack or stroke, even death.


Smokers are at a higher risk of worsening heart disease if they have already had heart bypass surgery, a heart attack or a stent placed in a blood vessel.

Smoking has an effect not only on cardiovascular health but also on the health of those around them who do not smoke. Second-hand smoke poses the same risk to a non-smoker as it does to a smoker. Stroke, heart attack and heart disease are all major health risks.

Respiratory Diseases

Inhaling smoke exposes a person to substances that can harm their lungs. Smoking can damage the airways and the small air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs and can cause a variety of issues over time. Along with increased infection risk, smokers are more likely to develop chronic non-reversible lung conditions. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is one of the lung diseases caused by smoking. The majority of lung cancer cases are caused by cigarette smoking. If someone has asthma, tobacco smoke can cause an attack or aggravate an existing one. Smokers are 12 to 13 times more likely than non-smokers to pass away from COPD. Active smoking aggravates asthma in smokers and is linked to an increased risk of asthma in adolescents and adults.


Smoking and Cancer
Smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body, including the bladder, blood (acute myeloid leukemia), cervix, colon and rectum, esophagus, kidney and ureter, larynx, oropharynx of the liver, pancreas, stomach, bronchus and lungs. Cancer patients and survivors who smoke have an increased risk of passing away from cancer and/or other diseases.

Smoking addiction, prevention, and treatment

Tobacco contains nicotine, which is highly addictive. It causes the brain to release a chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine is a “feel good” chemical that makes people happy, helps with concentration and gives them more energy. But this effect doesn’t last very long. As soon as the nicotine levels decrease, the brain craves more dopamine. The longer one smokes, the more dopamine one requires to feel good and addiction develops.

When people become addicted to nicotine, they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using it. They may be unable to concentrate or may feel nervous, restless, irritable, or anxious. Withdrawal can also cause headaches and sleep problems. However, when tobacco users learn about the dangers of smoking, the majority of them want to quit.

Nicotine in tobacco products is highly addictive, and without cessation support, only four per cent of smokers who try to quit will succeed. Professional assistance and proven cessation medications can double a tobacco user’s chances of quitting successfully. For instance, Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) is a medication that provides a low level of nicotine without the tar, carbon monoxide, and other harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke. It is available as skin patches, chewing gum, inhalators (which look like plastic cigarettes), tablets, oral strips and lozenges, and nasal and mouth spray. It can help reduce the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that may occur when someone is trying to quit smoking.

Quitting smoking has both short and long-term benefits.  There are a variety of medications available in stores and pharmacies to help you overcome your addiction and reduce withdrawal symptoms. Finding a way to stop smoking is the most crucial step you can take to live a longer and happier life. Where there is a will, there’s a way and medications may not be required to quit smoking, if you have the strong desire and motivation to do so.

First published on: 29-09-2022 at 06:06:14 pm
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