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Straight Talk from Dr. Stephanie Coulter
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November 2015

Stop Smoking to Prolong Your Life

Dr. Stephanie Coulter, MDSmoking damages every tissue and organ in your body. You know it, we know it, and even children know it. But still, people continue smoking. That is how addictive tobacco is.

Cigarette smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. It accounts for more than 440,000 deaths a year (20% of all deaths).

Smokers have a higher risk of developing several chronic disorders; including atherosclerosis, 14 different types of cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema). 

Top ten causes of death worldwideGlobally, tobacco use kills over 6 million people a year, more than HIV, Tuberculosis, and malaria combined.

High Blood Pressure is the only condition that kills more people around the world every year at 9 million.

A buildup of fatty substances in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis is the main contributor to the high number of deaths from smoking. Many studies detail the evidence that cigarette smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack. 

Despite all of the feel-good reasons why one may enjoy smoking, the fact remains that it damages your body. There is a valid reason why a pack of cigarettes includes a warning label that says: “Smoking kills”. 

Nicotine alters the balance of chemicals in your brain so that each time you inhale, it makes you feel relaxed, less stressed and wanting more. So when you try to cut back, it makes you anxious, causing headaches, lethargy, lightheadedness and a downright lousy mood. Is it any wonder that so many people become addicted?

It’s time to listen to your heart

What does smoking actually do to your body that puts you at risk for heart disease? 

It may surprise you to learn that smoking can double or even quadruple the risk of heart disease and stroke by itself. When it acts with other factors, the risk is greatly increased. So, if you have diabetes, high cholesterol or hypertension, smoking augments your risk BIG TIME of developing heart disease.  Smoking throughout your life shaves 13-14 years off your life expectancy. 

Cigarette smoking is the most important risk factor for young men and women. Women who smoke and use oral contraceptives greatly increase their risk of coronary heart disease and stroke compared with nonsmoking women who use oral contraceptive. Smoking may more than double a woman’s risk of sudden cardiac death and quitting can reduce that risk significantly over time.

Smoking not only increases the risk of coronary heart disease and cancer, it also decreases exercise tolerance, increases the tendency for blood to clot and the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypass surgery.

If that’s not enough there are approx. 4,000 chemical components found in cigarettes and at least 250 of them are harmful to human health. That’s what’s going into your body every time you inhale.  

That’s what’s going into your body every time you inhale.  

How EXACTLY does smoking damage our hearts?

  • You are essentially suffocating your heart, brain and arteries —stealing the oxygen and pushing CO (carbon monoxide) through your body.
  • It damages your blood vessels making them susceptible to plaque build-up.
  • It makes your blood stick, which will promote blood clots.
  • It decreases your HDL (“good” cholesterol) 
  • For women taking birth control pills, smoking increases your blood pressure and risk for stroke and heart attack.

Chewing tobacco or whatever name you want to call it – smokeless tobacco, pinch, dip or snuff tobacco is not safer than cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco plays a role in the development of cancer (mouth, gums, cheek, lips, tongue, throat, esophageal and pancreatic cancer), heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cavities (tooth decay), gum disease (causing tooth loss), and of course addiction.

The good news is that when you stop tobacco, your risk for heart disease and stroke can be cut by 50% within one year and continues to decline until it’s as low as a nonsmoker’s risk.

Your heart will thank you for quitting tobacco, so don’t waste any time. The health benefits start almost immediately.

Until next time!

Dr. Stephanie signature
Stephanie Coulter, MD

Further reading:

Smoking and Your Heart

FDA 101: Smoking Cessation Products

Risk Factors for Women

Read past issues of Straight Talk.

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