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How Smoking Increases Your Risk of Heart Disease

Learn how smoking increases your risk of heart disease from Dr. Dennis Finkielstein in this Howcast video.


How does smoking increase the risk of heart disease? Smoking has been one of the risk factors that's most well-established for the development of heart disease and the buildup of atherosclerotic or cholesterol plaques in the arteries of the heart.

The link between smoking and heart attack and stroke has been very strongly established in the medical literature. How does smoking lead to the buildup of cholesterol plaque in the arteries? It's a pretty complicated mechanism, but some of the basics we know. When people smoke, it increases the likelihood that cholesterol in the blood will be taken up into the arteries of the heart. In addition, it increases the inflammation of the arteries of the heart.

If we take a campfire analogy of coronary atherosclerosis, we can consider the artery as the campfire and every time you smoke, it's like taking a little squirt of lighter fluid and adding it to the campfire. Each time, you get a little burst of inflammation and that causes a little more damage. This is a very simplistic way of looking at things, but helps give us a visual of what might be going on in the arteries of the heart when someone smokes.

Not only has the link between smoking and heart disease been well-established, but the amount you smoke makes a real difference. With each additional cigarette per day, we've been able to show an increased rate of heart attack and stroke. The flip side of that coin, is as anyone reduces the amount they smoke, their risk of heart disease dramatically reduces. Stopping smoking is one of the single best ways for someone to reduce their risk of heart disease, stroke, or heart attack. So, smoking, can be said to directly lead to the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries.

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