Smoking and Heart Failure


The dangers of smoking have been well-established since the 1950s. However, millions of individuals across the globe continue on with their daily addiction to cigarettes and other tobacco products. The chemicals involved in this unhealthy habit harm almost every organ in the body and contribute to millions of preventable deaths each year.

The nearly 4,000 chemicals present in cigarettes are especially damaging to the heart and blood vessels. The entire cardiovascular system is built upon efficiently functioning vessels, proper blood flow, and the powerful pumping of the heart. Unfortunately, smoking causes severe damage to all of these functions, which leads to heart failure and a variety of other cardiovascular diseases.

For individuals with heart failure, smoking is a serious issue. It can severely worsen existing cardiovascular systems, lead to a decreased quality of life, and increase the chances of premature death. This article will discuss the dangers of smoking in heart failure patients and offer potential strategies to help patients give up smoking permanently.

Dangers of Smoking while Suffering from Heart Failure

The hearts beating inside of heart failure patients are functioning at a much lower level that the hearts of healthy individuals. The heart simply cannot keep up with the body’s demands.

For smokers, using cigarettes worsens the condition of the heart. Smoking cigarettes increases the amount of fat in the blood and arteries. Over time, this severely restricts the amount of blood flowing to the body’s organs. Smoking can also trigger a coronary spasm, in which the arteries suddenly narrow and cut off the heart’s blood supply. A smoker’s blood is sticky and more likely to form dangerous blood clots. The blood vessels harden and become inflamed.

Smoking can also make it more difficult for the blood to carry life-giving oxygen. This is because the carbon monoxide inhaled in cigarette smoke takes the place of oxygen and binds with hemoglobin. The body’s hemoglobin and red blood cells aren’t able to transport oxygen. All organs are oxygen-deprived because of this. In addition, the nicotine in cigarettes raises the blood pressure and heart rate, placing even higher demands on a poorly functioning heart.

Unfortunately, many individuals experience secondhand exposure to the dangerous effects of cigarette smoke. Although the individual is not directly smoking, simply being around cigarette smoke is very dangerous. Just like smokers, the heart suffers when individuals are exposed to secondhand smoke. In fact, that smoke is 80 to 90 percent as damaging as firsthand smoke. When inhaling secondhand smoke, the blood becomes sticky, the blood vessels are damaged, and the heart has to work harder.

Barriers to Quitting

Despite the health risks, millions of individuals continue using cigarettes. Often times, these smokers are unable to quit due to a variety of real or perceived barriers.

The nicotine in cigarettes is extremely addictive. During smoking, the drug provides individuals with a dose of relaxation and mood enhancement. This drug is so addictive that it has been compared to serious street drugs like cocaine and heroin.

Addiction isn’t the only factor that keeps smokers from quitting. Many smokers continue the unhealthy habit because it’s part of their social group. Their friends smoke and the peer pressure urges them to continue smoking, too.

Other individuals use smoking as a stress reliever. They may feel like they are unable to cope with their anger, frustration, or other pressures without the help of a cigarette.

Strategies for Quitting

No matter what the reasons for smoking, giving up the habit can be extremely difficult. However, with the right resources and support, individuals can have great success at permanently giving up smoking.

Before officially giving up cigarettes, individuals should create a fresh start. They should throw away all remaining cigarettes and get rid of all smoking paraphernalia (empty boxes, ash trays, lighters, and the like). They can make a list of all the reasons they are quitting and a list of the positive outcomes that will come from becoming smoke-free.

Making a list of potential triggers can also be helpful. For example, many smokers are tempted to smoke when they are drinking alcohol, when they are on lunch break, or when they are driving. After making a list of these circumstances, they can also write down potential distractions to avoid these triggers. For example, they may want to stay away from bars, take a walk on their lunch break, or chew a piece of gum while driving. Planning ahead like this will make it easier to refuse cigarettes as part of their normal routine.

Some individuals may find it helpful to also use nicotine replacement products. There are several options available: nicotine gum, patches, lozenges, and electronic cigarettes. These products do contain nicotine, but they do not contain the other harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke. This kind of therapy is aimed at gradually reducing the individual’s addiction to nicotine without severe withdrawal symptoms common with quitting cold turkey. In addition, using this strategy is considered safe for patients with heart conditions.

Prescription medications are also an option for individuals who wish to give up smoking. Bupropion and varenicline are two options. These oral medications assist people who wish to quit smoking by blocking addiction signals in the brain. Both medications need to be started one to two weeks prior to giving up cigarettes and they can be used alongside nicotine replacement therapies. These drugs may or may not be ideal for heart failure patients. Individuals should be sure to discuss their options with their medical team.

In addition to these strategies, getting adequate support is a critical step in quitting smoking. Along with support from friends, family members, and co-workers, a wide variety of support options are available in the community. Educational classes, support groups, telephone hotlines, and internet resources can be valuable in motivating and encouraging the individual looking to quit smoking.

The Importance of Quitting

Heart failure has no cure. However, smokers who give up cigarettes have great potential to improve their heart’s condition, extend their life expectancy, and enhance their quality of life.

Research shows that, on average, smokers die 13 years earlier than nonsmokers. Where heart diseases are concerned, individuals who quit smoking cut their risk of death by one-third.

It’s never too late to quit smoking. The benefits of quitting can be seen right away. In under 30 minutes, the individual’s blood pressure and heart rate drop. In less than three months, improvements can be seen in blood circulation. Patients who quit smoking are able to breathe easier and take better care of themselves.

Hope for Quitting

It is never easy for heart failure patients to quit smoking. In fact, it often takes several tries for an individual to permanently give up smoking. However, there is hope. Many thousands of smokers successfully quit every year. These individuals defeat the smoking addiction and become healthier because of that victory.

The odds of success can be enhanced by using quitting strategies and support resources. Heart failure patients should contact their doctors, local health organizations, or online resources for more help when quitting smoking.

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