Smoking. Most people know that smoking increases the risk of lung cancer, but few know that it also significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and peripheral vascular disease (disease of the blood vessels that irrigate the arms and legs). According to the American Heart Association, more than 400,000 Americans die each year from diseases related to smoking. Many of these deaths are due to the effects of tobacco smoke on the heart and blood vessels.
Research shows that smoking accelerates the pulse, contracts the main arteries and can cause irregularities in the frequency of heart beats, all of which increases the heart’s effort. Smoking also increases blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of a stroke in people suffering from hypertension. Although nicotine is the main active agent of tobacco smoke, other compounds and chemicals, such as tar and carbon monoxide, are also harmful to the heart. These chemicals contribute to the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries, possibly by injuring the walls of the blood vessels. They also affect cholesterol and fibrinogen levels (a blood coagulant), increasing the risk of a blood clot forming that can cause a heart attack.
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