Why does smoking increase my risk for coronary heart disease?

Coronary heart disease is caused by the hardening of arteries, which constricts the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. Smoking worsens this process because it damages the lining of the arteries. When the arteries try to repair themselves, plaque builds up, hardening the artery wall. Smoking also increases blood pressure, decreases oxygen to the heart, and increases blood clots. Low-tar or low-nicotine cigarettes are just as harmful on the heart as regular cigarettes.

On its own, smoking increases the risk for coronary heart disease. But in conjunction with the presence of other risk factors, such as high cholesterol, this risk is magnified. Smokers have more than twice the risk for a heart attack as non-smokers. Even one cigarette a day increases your risk. If you smoke, quit. One year after quitting, your risk of developing coronary heart disease is cut in half.

Felipe Navarro, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
One of the most important modifiable risk factors for heart disease is smoking. If you smoke and want to reduce your risk factors for heart disease, quit now. Switching to low tar cigarettes or chewing tobacco does not reduce your risk. All tobacco products contain nicotine, a powerful stimulant that increases heart rate and blood pressure while damaging the arteries. Also, the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke decreases the amount of vital oxygen available in the bloodstream for use by the heart.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.