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Smoking contributes to Heart Disease and Stroke

Heart disease is a term that refers to a broad range of conditions from atherosclerosis ( hardening of the arteries ) to myocardial infarctions ( major heart attacks ). It results from many factors, one of which is cigarette smoking.

Although smoking does not actually cause heart disease, it contributes to nearly every physiological factor associated with it. For example, smoking significantly increases the risk of having angina ( chest pains that occur when the heart muscle does not get enough blood supply ) and dying of  heart attack. Smoking also increases the risk of a second heart attack among people who have already had one. The risk of heart disease for people who smoke more than one pack of cigarettes a day is three times higher than for a nonsmoker. Although in general women die of heart disease less often than men, women who smoke have a higher incidence of heart disease than women who do not smoke.

The two major components in smoke that contribute to heart disease are nicotine and carbon monoxide. Nicotine increases blood pressure, heart rate, the amount of blood pumped by the heart and the blood flow in the arteries; carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen available to the heart and other parts of the body.

The third leading cause of death in the United States ( after heart disease and cancer ) is stroke. It also is a major cause of morbidity, with more than 400,000 Americans suffering nonfatal strokes a year. Much of this is avoidable because smoking is the major cause of stroke. the mechanism at work here is a decrease in cerebral blood flow, which is associated with smoking. In addition, smoking increases the risk for heart disease and congestive heart failure, both of which increase the risk for stroke.

Women who smoke and take birth control pills are three times more likely to die of heart attack or stroke than nonsmoking women on the pill. This risk is considered so great that the Food and Drug Administration requires that all birth control pill products have the following label : "Women who use oral contraceptives should not smoke."

Smoking cessation can dramatically reduce the risks of both heart disease and stroke. Some studies show a benefit within two years of quitting, but others suggest that the former smoker's risk gradually decreases over a period of several years.

     
     

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