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. Regardless of the time length or the amount of cigarettes smoked, the only way to eliminate the increased risk of heart disease and heart attack caused by smoking it to eliminate the root cause: simply put, to reduce this risk, you must eliminate it and stop smoking.
I know, as with any habit--whether over eating, drinking soda, or biting your fingernails--that’s easier said than done. Sometimes, breaking our love affair with our personal favorite vice may seem to be more effort than it’s worth. In this instance, however, the benefits from quitting are very much worth the effort. In addition to reducing your risk of heart disease and heart attack, and living longer as a result, stopping smoking also reduces your risk of developing high blood pressure and numerous other diseases such as gum disease, lung or throat cancer, or emphysema.
From the purely aesthetic perspective, you’ll also look better after you quit smoking. Smoking causes wrinkles and stains your teeth. Even if heart disease and emphysema seem a long way off in the future, who among us can’t buy into a looking younger longer? If improved health, living longer, and looking better aren’t enough of a motivation to quit smoking, then think of all the money you’ll save – not only in terms of money saved from cigarette purchases but doctor bills, time lost from work due to smoking related illness, and of course, all those beauty creams you’ll need to eliminate those pesky smoke induced wrinkles.
While quitting may not be easy, the benefits you reap are almost instantaneous. Reports indicate that the benefits of quitting manifest as early as two weeks after you quit smoking. Your risk of a heart attack drops by 50 percent within two weeks of quitting. Now, that’s a good and quick return on your investment! Quitting smoking is one lifestyle change you can “live” with.
Heart Disease, The Mayo Clinic, 12 Jan 2011, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease/DS01120
Women, Heart Disease, and Stroke, The American Heart Association, 19 Jan 2011, http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4786
Subtle and Dangerous: Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women (Results from Studies Supported by the National Institute of Nursing Research), National Institute of Health Publication No. 06-6079
Smoking and Heart Disease, WebMD, http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/smoking-heart-disease
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