How Cigarettes Damage Your Body

Updated:Aug 17,2015

Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.  Here’s why.

Factors like high blood pressure can stretch out the arteries and cause scarring. Bad cholesterol, called LDL, often gets lodged in the scar tissue and combines with white blood cells to form clots. The good cholesterol, called HDL, helps remove LDL from the arteries.

Here are some other problems smoking causes:

  • Smoking robs you of some of your good cholesterol.  
  • Smoking temporarily raises your blood pressure.
  • Smoking increases the blood’s clotting likelihood.
  • Smoking makes it more difficult to exercise.

Although cigarette smoking alone increases your risk of coronary heart disease, it greatly increases risk to your whole cardiovascular system. Smoking also increases the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypass surgery. 

Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries, and is a chief contributor to heart disease – the  No. 1 killer in America.

Stroke risks are higher, too. Because smoking temporarily increases blood pressure, and also increases cholesterol build-ups and the tendency for blood to clot, both types of strokes are more likely for a person who smokes. There are strokes caused from bleeding because of a weakened blood vessel and strokes caused by blockages and clots that form in a vessel and cut off blood flow to the brain.  Stroke is one of the leading causes of death and adult disability in America.

Smoking also contributes to peripheral artery disease. Again, because of the added strain smoking places on the arteries and veins, peripheral artery disease is much more like among smokers, and the habit also further increases the risk for aortic aneurism.

There is hope and help.

Despite all these scary facts, there is hope if you’re a smoker. Did you know that almost immediately after you quit smoking, your lungs and other smoke-damaged organs start to repair themselves?  You can start getting better the day you put down the cigarettes.

See how this process happens in the Smoke-Free Living– Benefits & Milestones.

Lung and breathing problems.

Your lungs are “air-exchange organs.” They’re made up of tubes that branch out into small sacs called bronchioles and alveoli where oxygen exchange takes place.  Your body takes in the oxygen you breathe and uses it as fuel. When you breathe in, the sacs inflate. When you breathe out, the sacs deflate.

In a healthy person, these tubes and sacs are very elastic and spongy.  In a person with a chronic lung disease, these sacs lose their elasticity and oxygen exchange is greatly impaired.  When that happens, your body is in grave danger because we can’t live without oxygen!

The lungs protect themselves with a thin layer of protective mucus and by moving toxic particles out with small hairs.  In a smoker’s lungs, the small hairs, called cilia, move slower and struggle to remove harmful particles. You can’t cough, sneeze or swallow effectively to clear these toxins.  They become trapped in your lungs, leading to  higher risk for numerous dangerous health problems, including heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is usually made up of two conditions that make breathing difficult: emphysema and chronic bronchitis.  When you have emphysema, the air sacs in your lungs start to deteriorate and lose their elasticity. Chronic bronchitis occurs when the lining in the tubes in your lungs swell and restrict your breathing.  These conditions are directly related to smoking.

Learn more: 

Last reviewed 3/2015

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Smokers have more than twice the risk of heart attack as nonsmokers. Smoking is a major risk factor for stroke, too.

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