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It’s never too late to quit smoking
No matter how long you’ve smoked, the risk of heart disease starts to decrease the minute you quit smoking.

“Smoking cigarettes tops the list as one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” says Palmetto Health Heart & Vascular Hospital cardiologist Dr. William Stuck. According to the American Heart Association, smokers’ risk of heart attack is more than twice that of nonsmokers. In fact, it is the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death. Smokers have two to four times the risk of nonsmokers.

“Each time a smoker inhales, the cigarette smoke temporarily increases his or her heart rate and blood pressure, and less oxygen-rich blood circulates through the body,” Stuck says. “In addition, smoking also can lead to clumping or stickiness in the blood vessels leading to the heart. Clogged arteries are the chief contributor to the high number of deaths from smoking.”

Cigarette smoking increases the risk of heart disease by itself. But, when combined with any of the other major heart disease risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes, it greatly increases your risk.

Fortunately, smoking is a modifiable risk factor. The minute you stop smoking, your risk of heart disease begins to decrease. Over time, your risk will be about the same as if you’d never smoked.

To help yourself or a loved one stop smoking, consider taking a smoking cessation course such as the one offered by Palmetto Health.

The American Heart Association has these suggestions on how to quit smoking:

Step One:
• List your reasons to quit and read them several times a day.
• Keep your cigarette pack wrapped with paper and rubber bands.
• Each time you smoke, write down the time of day, how you feel, and how important that cigarette is to you on a scale of one to five.

Step Two:
• Keep reading your list of reasons to quit and try to add to it.
• Don’t carry matches. Keep your cigarettes out of easy reach.
• Each day, try to smoke fewer cigarettes.

Step Three:
• Continue with Step Two.
• Set a target date to quit.
• Don’t buy a new pack until you finish the one you’re smoking.
• Change brands twice during the week, each time for a brand lower in tar and nicotine.
• Try to stop for 48 hours at one time.

Step Four:
• Quit smoking completely. Throw out all cigarettes and matches. Hide lighters and ashtrays.
• Stay busy.
• Avoid situations you relate with smoking.
• Find healthy substitutes for smoking.
• Do deep breathing exercises when you get the urge to smoke.

In the United States, an estimated 26 million men and 22.7 million women are smokers. These people are at much higher risk of heart attack than nonsmokers.