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The Link Between Tobacco and Heart Disease
If you are trying to quit smoking, here’s a good reason why you should kick the habit once and for all. Smoking is one of the highest risk factors for developing heart disease. Nearly 20 percent of deaths related to heart disease can be directly attributed to cigarette smoking. What’s more, approximately 70,000 people who have been exposed to secondhand smoke die from heart disease each year.
“Tobacco can cause a blockage in the coronary arteries (atherosclerosis), which can lead to a host of cardiovascular problems, such as heart attack, heart failure, abdominal aortic aneurysm and arrhythmias,” said John Travis Wilson, MD, a cardiologist who specializes in coronary interventions and peripheral vascular disease at West Penn Allegheny Health System’s Cardiovascular Institute. “In addition, there is a link between smoking and peripheral arterial disease—a condition that can cause pain and promotes infections in the legs.”
Cigarettes are not the only tobacco-related threat to the public. Dr. Wilson added that any type of tobacco product can put people at risk for heart disease. “Nicotine and the other chemicals found in pipe tobacco, cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco can cause as many problems as cigarettes,” he said. “And it’s well documented that tobacco products lead to a wide range of other health problems, such as cancer and emphysema.”
The good news is that you can undo the damage to your body, even if you have smoked or used another tobacco product for years. Within one year of quitting smoking, your risk of developing cardiovascular disease will drop to less than half that of a smoker. And within seven years, you can further decrease that risk to almost the same as someone who has never smoked.
If you tried to stop smoking in the past but have relapsed, don’t let that prevent you from trying again. “It often takes multiple attempts before smokers can quit for good,” said Dr. Wilson. “Today, there are more smoking cessation options than ever before. Nicotine patches, gums, electronic cigarettes and medications help take the edge off of cravings for tobacco. In addition, counseling can be very helpful. More and more people are successfully quitting this habit and are reaping the benefits of a healthier life.”