Discover How Smoking Affects the Heart

Tobacco is a risk factor for atherosclerosis, which is a pathology that causes blood vessels to become blocked. Today we'll tell you more about how smoking affects the heart.
Discover How Smoking Affects the Heart
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

It’s common knowledge that smoking affects the heart, as well as our blood vessels and the rest of our organs, in harmful ways. Smoking is linked to numerous cardiovascular diseases, different types of cancer, and countless other illnesses.

There are currently 1.1 billion smokers in the world. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death; around 8 million people die from tobacco each year, and, unfortunately, not all are direct smokers.

Moreover, scientists say that smoking increases the risk of dying from heart disease by 18-30%. In fact, you don’t need to smoke much to do that. These statistics pertain to people who smoke around 10 cigarettes a day.

However, although awareness campaigns on the harmfulness of smoking are commonplace, few people really understand how smoking affects the heart. In this article, we’ll offer more detail.

How smoking affects the heart

A woman putting out a cigarette in an ash tray.

The effects of tobacco on the heart vary according to the number of cigarettes smoked daily. Similarly, it also depends on how long you keep up this habit. However, smoking is always harmful, even if it’s only in small quantities.

Similarly, not being a smoker but being around someone who does smoke also causes typical harmful effects of tobacco on the heart. Just the same, we should be aware that a smoker has three times the risk of suffering from a coronary disease than a non-smoker.

The coronary arteries are responsible for carrying oxygenated blood to the heart. Smoking makes these arteries more likely to become blocked. Some studies link the quitting smoking with a lower chance of suffering a heart attack again because of this situation.

In addition, tobacco speeds up the heart rate. That is, it increases the rate our heart beats at. This can cause the heartbeat to be less effective, because the heart doesn’t have time to fill up completely with each beat.

In the same way, it can cause, in addition to this acceleration, an alteration in the rhythm itself. This is another effect of tobacco on the heart: it produces cardiac arrhythmias, which also harm the normal functioning of this organ.

Other effects of tobacco on the heart and the vascular system

It’s been shown that smoking causes our body’s major arteries to constrict. As they contract, they offer more resistance to the passage of blood. Therefore, the heart needs more strength to make sure that oxygenated blood reaches all parts of the body.

In other words, smoking increases blood pressure. High blood pressure carries many risks, from a stroke to a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the blockage of the coronary arteries causes the death of the heart’s muscle cells.

A woman clutching her chest in pain.

What substances produce these effects?

The harmful ways in which smoking affects the heart, as well as on other organs, are due to all the toxic substances cigarettes possess. However, there are two substances in particular that are closely related to the heart:

  • Carbon monoxide: This is produced by the combustion of the cigarette. It’s responsible for reducing the amount of oxygen carried by hemoglobin, which is the substance that transports it in our red blood cells. Therefore, our heart also has less oxygen to beat and function properly.
  • Nicotine: This is a substance that acts on our nervous system. It increases the concentration of adrenaline and noradrenaline in the blood. The problem is that it increases the levels of cholesterol in the blood and stimulates the contraction of the blood vessels.
  • Carbon monoxide also seems to be related to an increase in coagulation. This makes the risk of a clot or a thrombus blocking one of our arteries even greater.

In conclusion

The effects of smoking on the heart are many and very dangerous. Mainly, it should be noted that it’s notably related to the obstruction or narrowing of the coronary arteries. Therefore, it’s one of the most important factors in angina pectoris or heart attacks.

It’s also associated with increased blood pressure and other peripheral vascular diseases. The best thing to do is to stop smoking as soon as possible. Today, there are numerous support groups and ways to try.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.