Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, with more than 480,000 people dying from diseases directly linked to tobacco. While lung disease plagues many smokers, we see many heart and vascular diseases contributing to deaths. Fortunately, most diseases directly related to smoking can be reversed or prevented after smoking cessation. As your North Carolina heart and vascular center in Raleigh, we can provide you with information regarding some of these conditions and how they develop over time.
Your blood is made up of various products besides red blood cells and water. A protein called hemoglobin works to ensure that oxygen is carried to your tissues, then carbon dioxide to the lungs. Platelets are cell fragments that ensure blood clots when you have a cut or another injury that breaks the skin to stop the bleeding. Chemicals in tobacco smoke change the surface of the platelets and make it easier for them to clump together.
Excessive buildup of platelets can be a problem because they can start to form a mass within the walls of blood vessels even if there isn’t severe trauma to the area. These blood clots can be problematic as they can block arteries or travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the body. Clotting in the bloodstream can be caused by inflammation and damage to blood vessel walls as a result of glucose, cholesterol buildup, and more.
A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, which can be the result of a blocked artery (ischemic stroke) or a blood vessel that’s burst (hemorrhagic stroke). Regardless of the cause of the stroke, brain cells can start dying within minutes of the blood supply is disrupted. Clotting disorders caused by smoking often lead to a stroke, which can leave the patient with a limited ability to speak or use various parts of their body.
Similar to a stroke, a heart attack occurs when blood flow is blocked. Rather than blocking blood to the brain, blood doesn’t reach the heart. The blockage can be caused by a buildup of fat, cholesterol, or blood clots. Those who smoke often have high cholesterol because the smoke creates an environment that breaks down cholesterol in the bloodstream. Rather than breaking it down and removing it, low-density lipoproteins (LDL) increase in prevalence and accumulate on the inside of arterial walls. The further accumulation of LDLs increases inflammation and increases the risk of heart disease.
Type 2 diabetes
While only about 20% of smokers are considered obese, all are at a tremendous risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Nicotine in cigarettes, in particular, increases insulin resistance by changing the function of your cells, which makes it difficult for your body to absorb glucose to create energy. Patients can manage type 2 diabetes with medication, but it doesn’t always stop it from progressing. If left untreated, patients are at increased risk of progressive heart disease and having a stroke as excessive glucose in the bloodstream can significantly damage blood vessels.
Schedule an appointment
If you’re a smoker and are worried about your heart health, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our clinic. Our team of cardiovascular specialists at Champion Heart & Vascular Center can help you quit smoking and reverse some of the health risks created by the harmful habit. Give us a call at your nearby clinic or send a message with any inquiries you might have. You can also fill out our appointment request form to get started. As your North Carolina heart and vascular center in Raleigh, we can help.