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Published on February 29, 2012

Why Smoking Is Bad for Your Heart


Kenneth Lightheart, MD, Southern Oregon Cardiology, says smoking is the greatest risk factor for heart disease.

Kenneth Lightheart, MD, says smoking is the greatest risk factor for heart disease.

Want to slash your risk of a heart attack? Stop smoking. Tobacco use is the single most modifiable risk factor for heart disease, says Kenneth Lightheart, MD, a cardiologist with Southern Oregon Cardiology. “Stopping smoking will do more to reduce the risk of first-time or recurrent heart attack than anything else, including stents and surgery,” he says.

For smokers who’ve had a heart attack, quitting tobacco can reduce their chances of dying from another heart attack by 36 percent. This rate is as good or better than the benefits of common medications prescribed after a heart attack, including aspirin, statins, beta-blockers, and ACE inhibitors.

On the flip side, not stopping smoking may limit the ability of other medications and procedures to prevent heart attacks. Of the several risk factors for heart disease—genetics, age, male gender, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity, Dr. Lightheart says, “Tobacco cessation is one that patients can have control over, and it’s something they can do for themselves instead of relying on a doctor to treat it.”

The chemicals in tobacco smoke damage blood cells, heart tissue, and blood vessels. Smoking also lowers HDL or “good” cholesterol, and raises blood pressure. These factors increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis, or plaque build-up in the arteries, which leads to heart disease. Furthermore, Dr. Lightheart warns, “Smoking a cigarette can acutely affect an artery, potentially initiating the onset of a heart attack.

The only real way to diminish the effects of smoking on the heart is to stop, Dr. Lightheart advises. “Even a cigarette or two a day, or every once in a while, can be harmful.”

Many tools are available to help a person stop smoking, such as nicotine patches, medications, and tobacco cessation classes. However, says Dr. Lightheart, “The only thing that will really result in success at quitting is the patient’s determination to stop.”

For smoking cessation classes sponsored by Asante Health System, call call 541-789-3932, or contact Asante Health Promotions at 541-789-4995. It only costs $20, and it can help you quit forever.

2650 Siskiyou Blvd., Medford, OR 97504

541-789-7000