How can smoking affect your health?

Many people link smoking to cancer. But in fact, among smokers worldwide - it's heart and blood vessel disease -not cancer -that's the number 1 cause of death. That's because smoking damages the lining of you arteries and promotes plaque buildup. Plaque is made of fatty deposits like cholesterol that collect at certain places in your arteries. Plaque can eventually block the arteries and cut off the blood and oxygen supply.

Plaque buildup, also called atherosclerosis, can lead to:

Heart attack- inside the coronary arteries (on the surface of your heart), plaque or a clot can block blood flow and cause a heart attack.

Stroke- inside the carotid arteries (in your neck, plaque or clot can block blood flow to the brain and cause a stroke.

Smoking actually does more than promote plaque buildup. It also affect substances in your blood such as proteins, which make your blood sticky and more likely to clot.

Smoking has been linked to:

High blood pressure: smoking narrows the blood vessels, which increases blood pressure. Smoking also increases your heart rate, making your heart work harder.

  • High cholesterol: smoking lowers HDL or high density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol). The tobacco smoke also contain chemicals called free radicals that make LDL even more harmful to your arteries.
  • Obesity: since smoking can affect your lung function, it can limit your exercise. This can also lead to weight gain.
  • Diabetes: smoking increases your body's resistance to insulin, a hormone you need to convert blood sugar into energy.
  • Irregular heartbeats: called arrhythmias.
  • Sudden cardiac death (SCD): caused by dangerously fast arrhythmias.
  • Heart failure: the weakened pumping of the heart.

Most people know that smoking contributes to cancer- cancer of the lung, larynx (voice box), oral cavity, pharynx (throat), esophagus, bladder, liver, colon, rectum, cervix, kidney, stomach, and pancreas. In addition, smoking can cause or contribute to cataracts, osteoporosis, and some leukemias.

What you can do

You can take action- because it's never to late to quit. In 2004 the US Surgeon General noted than even if you don't kick the habit until age 65 or older, you can still cut your risk of dying from a smoking-related disease by nearly 50%.

Don't discount the impact that lifestyle changes have on your health. According to the National Institutes of Health, a healthy lifestyle can help lower heart disease risk by 82%. In most cases, this means you should follow a heart- healthy eating plan, get regular physical activity, maintain a healthy weight, and quit smoking.

Talk to your nurse about methods that can help you kick the habit. Today there are patches, self - help classes, toll - free telephone hotlines, and nicotine replacement therapy. You can see what works best for you.