Smoking is implicated in various cancers, including lung cancer, but its effect on the cardiovascular system is somewhat less discussed. However, smoking profoundly affects our blood vessels and, ultimately, our long-term heart health. Smoking traditional cigarettes can worsen atherosclerosis (the narrowing of the arteries) both in the heart and peripheral extremities, causing problems with limb health and even dramatically increasing the risk of a heart attack. Traditional smoking also constricts blood vessels around the body, meaning that the heart must work harder to pump blood. For example, the body will have a more challenging time fighting off infection after an injury or surgery. Healing is often compromised too. With the advent of E-cigarettes and so-called vaping, many believe it is an appropriate and significantly lower-risk alternative to traditional tobacco products. But is this the case? Should vaping be considered a suitable option for those trying to quit smoking? There is a lot we know and even more that we don’t.
There is no doubt that smoking influences cardiovascular and overall health (negatively). This is not new, and research has proven this repeatedly. And while we invariably link smoking with lung cancer, COPD, and other medical concerns, few people realize how significantly it affects our heart.
Smoking is a leading contributor to atherosclerosis or the narrowing of arteries. Untreated atherosclerosis can lead to angina or chest pain which can ultimately cause a heart attack. Atherosclerosis can also increase the risks and symptoms of peripheral arterial disease or PAD, representing the compromised blood flow to the extremities, usually the legs. As part of the ongoing research into the effects of smoking on the arteries and heart disease in general, researchers have found that smoking cessation in patients with atherosclerosis can add up to five or even ten years to a patient’s life.