Unless you live in a vacuum, most of us have some idea about just how serious heart disease can be, especially for women. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States each year, with heart-related disease taking the life of one out of every three women. Risk factors for developing heart disease fall into two categories:
• risk factors you can’t change, such as your age, sex, and family history
• risk factors you can change, such as smoking, diet, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, physical inactivity, obesity, stress, diabetes, and poor hygiene
Fortunately, you can reduce your risk of heart disease and improve your heart health by making lifestyle changes that matter. By addressing each risk factor, you can improve, and possibly eliminate, your risk of heart disease.
Smoking is one of the major risk factors for developing heart disease and a significant contributor to heart attack. By some estimates, cigarette smoking is directly related to at least 20 percent of all heart disease related deaths. Estimates are that more than 21 million women in the United States smoke cigarettes. Smokers are more likely to suffer a heart attack, ischemic stroke, peripheral vascular disease, or subarachnoid hemorrhage than non-smokers. The risk is even greater for those women who use birth control pills.
Smokers are particularly susceptible to the development of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis (a form of arteriosclerosis) occurs when fats build up in the artery walls. This reduces the amount of blood flow and the resulting fat buildup (or plaque) can cause blood clots to form. The nicotine in cigarette smoke cause your blood vessels to constrict (making your heart work harder), leaving carbon monoxide free to wreak havoc on the inner lining of the heart, rendering smokers more susceptible to heart disease.
The amount you smoke also plays a factor in your risk of heart disease. The more you smoke, the greater your risk of developing heart disease. Long-term smokers also have a greater risk of heart disease than those who have smoked a shorter amount of time.