Regular smoking increases the possibility of a heart attack in people with chronic heart problems. It is also one of the factors that can lead to heart problems.
When you smoke a cigarette, nicotine causes several changes in your body:
- it reaches your heart within seconds, causing blood vessels to narrow
- your heart rate speeds up
- your blood pressure rises
- the blood flow to your fingers and toes decreases.
Cigarettes contain carbon monoxide (a poisonous gas). Smoking leads to a greater concentration of carbon monoxide in the lungs than if you breathe polluted air.
Blood takes up carbon monoxide much more readily than it takes up oxygen. After you have smoked a cigarette, carbon monoxide levels in the blood rise, and the blood leaving the heart carries less oxygen to the cells of the body. This increases the risk of hardening of the arteries, and coronary heart disease.
Tar and other elements found in cigarette smoke also reduce the effectiveness of the lungs to deliver oxygen to the blood. The small air sacs in the lungs become less flexible, causing ‘smoker's cough', shortness of breath and wheezing.
Tar is the main cause of lung and throat cancer and respiratory disease. It also stains fingers and teeth yellow.
This information was first published in You and Your Heart - an education booklet for patients, families and friends. © 2006 Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service