Smoking Cessation: Benefits, Methods, and Long-Term Outlook

Smoking cigarettes is highly addictive, and people still smoke for various reasons. Nicotine and smoking can damage blood vessels and your heart, so it’s important to learn the symptoms of heart disease. Read on to learn the steps to smoking cessation.

9 minute read

Last Updated July 6, 2020

Smoking Cessation Guidelines - Heart - 1MD

Most people will report that they smoke to help calm their nerves or to help them deal with stress and negative emotions. Some are only casual or social smokers. Others will admit that they are addicted and get strong cravings for a cigarette all through the day.

Whatever the reason, smoking is highly addictive. The nicotine gets you hooked while the chemicals and tar inside cause serious damage to your health. 

Smoking and Your Heart

Smoking is one of the major causes of cardiovascular disease. Even if you only smoke five cigarettes or less a day, your risk for cardiovascular problems is significantly increased over those who do not smoke. 

The chemicals and the smoke damage your lungs as well as your heart and impact your overall health. Specifically, the lining of your arteries and blood vessels become inflamed from cigarette smoke, narrowing them and causing serious cardiovascular problems

Smoking and Your Blood Vessels

Nicotine and carbon monoxide impact your blood vessels. When your blood vessels become damaged, and blood cannot flow properly, your entire cardiovascular system is at risk. 

Nicotine: This chemical causes your blood vessels to constrict, limiting the amount of blood that can reach your organs. Over time, this constriction causes the blood vessels to become stiff, and the amount of oxygen your cells receive is dramatically reduced. To get the oxygen your body needs, your heart is forced to beat faster.

Carbon monoxide: This gas binds to your hemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen in your blood. When this happens, oxygen cannot bind, and less is delivered to the cells that need it. Your heart will pump harder to try and get your cells the oxygen they need. Because your heart is a muscle, overworking it in this way will cause it to enlarge.

An increased heart rate and enlarged heart combined with stiffer blood vessels make it very difficult for your cardiovascular system to function properly. Your body is deprived of the oxygen and nutrients it needs, and this causes structural changes to the heart, which increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases

Heart Diseases Linked to Smoking

There are several serious heart diseases linked to smoking.

Atherosclerosis: Atherosclerosis occurs when the arteries become very narrow and less flexible as a result of plaque buildup along the walls. These plaques block blood flow to other parts of the body, depriving organs and tissues of oxygen and nutrients. Smoking contributes to the increased formation of these plaques.

Coronary Heart Disease: When a blockage narrows the arteries carrying blood to the heart, coronary heart disease occurs. The chemical in cigarettes causes blood to thicken and form clots, thus blocking arteries and increasing the risk of heart attack and sudden death.

Stroke: Stroke is a loss of brain function as a result of blocked blood flow to the brain. Smoking increases your risk for strokes, which can cause permanent brain damage. Studies have found that death from strokes is more likely among smokers than nonsmokers.

Peripheral Artery Disease: This disease occurs when the arteries to your legs and arms become blocked or narrowed, and the cells in these areas are deprived of oxygen. Smoking is a contributing factor to the narrowing of arteries and this disease. 

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: This is a bulge or weakened area in the portion of the aorta that is in the abdomen. Your aorta is responsible for carrying oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body, and smoking can cause damage to this, which leads to an aneurysm. A ruptured aneurysm is life-threatening, and almost all deaths from this condition are caused by smoking.

Smoking Statistics

♦ Smoking causes approximately 1 in 4 deaths from cardiovascular disease.

♦ More than 33,000 nonsmokers die every year from diseases related to secondhand smoke.

♦ Smokers are two to four times more likely to develop coronary artery disease over nonsmokers.

♦ Smokers have a 70 percent higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease over nonsmokers.

♦ Smokers are twice as likely to die from a stroke than nonsmokers. Smoking causes 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths.

The Benefits of Smoking Cessation

What is smoking cessation? This is essentially quitting smoking and giving up tobacco. Smoking cessation removes your exposure to the nicotine tar and carbon monoxide that are damaging your lungs and cardiovascular system. The benefits of smoking cessation can be seen within minutes of quitting.

♦ Within 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure drop.
♦ Within 12 hours, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood drop back to normal.
♦ Within 12 weeks, your circulation improves.
♦ Within one year, your risk for heart disease is about half that of a smoker.
♦ After 5 years, your risk of stroke is reduced to that of a nonsmoker.
♦ After 15 years, your risk of coronary heart disease is the same as that of a nonsmoker.

Quit Smoking Facts 

To successfully quit smoking, you need to have a plan. Make sure you have a support system in place, as 90 percent of people who try to quit without support, relapse. In addition to this you need to remember the following:

The first days will be the hardest: You will experience mood changes, which is when support and nicotine replacement therapy provides the most help.

Identify your triggers: Knowing what makes you want to reach for a cigarette, as well as the people and places that prompt smoking, can help you avoid the urges to smoke.

Don’t give in: Cravings will happen as part of the nicotine withdrawal but do not give up. Try changing your habits. Put a stick of gum in your mouth or play a game on your phone to distract you when the cravings hit.

Medications for Smoking Cessation

Because of the addictive nature of smoking, it is not always easy to quit smoking. There are several medications available that can help you quit, so if you think you need help, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor about prescriptions. 

Medications to help smoking cessation aim to interfere with the nicotine receptors in the brain, which reduces symptoms of withdrawal and reduces the pleasure one feels from smoking. Other medications can be prescribed to reduce cravings.

Additional Methods for Smoking Cessation

Along with medications, there are alternative therapies to help with smoking cessation. 

Nicotine Replacement Therapy: Nicotine gum, patches, inhalers, and sprays are used to give you nicotine without the cigarette. This works best when coupled with behavioral therapy, which identifies your triggers for smoking so you can avoid them. 

Acupuncture: When used in conjunction with medication or nicotine replacement therapy, acupuncture has been shown to help with quitting. By reducing stress, the need for smoking can be reduced.

Hypnosis: This technique is known for being able to change behaviors quickly, and it is used often for smoking cessation. By relaxing your mind enough, unconscious triggers can be identified and then corrected, thus eliminating the desire to smoke. 

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke damages the heart and blood vessels increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease and premature death, so it’s important to recognize the benefits and the potential harm of smoking. Quitting may not be easy, but there are resources to help, and the benefits can be seen within minutes. 

Smoking cessation can help you reverse the heart and blood vessel damage caused, and it reduces your risk for disease. With the right support and program to help you quit, the long-term outlook can be positive for anybody who once smoked.

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