Wellness and Prevention Part I Chapter 4

Smoking & Your Arteries

Peripheral Artery Disease
The nicotine and carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke damage the arteries, causing them to harden and clog with fatty deposits called plaque, which restricts blood flow. When the arteries outside of the heart become clogged with plaque, blood supply to the arms, legs, and feet can be reduced or cut off altogether. This condition is called peripheral artery disease. Peripheral artery disease can lead to open sores that don't heal, injury, and infection of the feet and legs. In extreme cases there can be tissue death (gangrene), sometimes requiring amputation of the affected limb.

In carotid artery disease, plaque deposits build up in the carotid arteries, which run up along the front of the neck and supply the brain with oxygenated blood. The arteries can become blocked, cutting off blood supply to the brain in a condition called ischemia. Or, plaques in the carotid arteries can rupture and create clots that break off and travel up into the smaller vessels of the brain, where they become lodged and stop blood flow. In either case the result is a stroke. Portions of the brain tissue may be damaged or die completely.

If you have ever used tobacco in any form, tell your doctor so that she or he can provide you with appropriate preventive health care. Be aware of, and report to your doctor, symptoms like a new cough, hoarseness, trouble breathing, headaches, chest pain, loss of appetite, and general fatigue. Any of these could be signs of lung cancer or other lung conditions.

The best way to prevent these complications is to quit smoking. When you quit smoking, your body begins to recover almost immediately. Your sense of taste and smell return; your breath, hair and clothes smell better; your teeth and fingernails stop yellowing. And there are many more health benefits over time:

20 minutes after quitting:

  • Your heart rate and blood pressure drop

12 hours after quitting:

  • The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal

2 weeks to 3 months after quitting:

  • Your circulation improves and your lung function increases

1 to 9 months after quitting:

  • Coughing and shortness of breath decrease

1 year after quitting:

  • Risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker

5 to 15 years after quitting:

  • Stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker

10 years after quitting:

  • Lung cancer death rate is half that of a smoker, and risk of other cancers decreases

15 years after quitting:

  • Risk or coronary heart disease is half that of a nonsmoker

How to Quit
Most smokers know that smoking is very bad for you, but they smoke anyway. Why? Tobacco is a highly addictive drug. It's as addictive, in fact, as heroine, cocaine, or alcohol.

It isn't easy, but millions of people have succeeded in quitting smoking. If you smoke and decide to stop, there are many choices. You can quit "cold turkey," go to classes or get counseling, use nicotine replacement therapies, or use step-by-step guides. You can get more information on the options available and get help finding a Quitline phone counseling program in your area by calling the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345 (1-800-227-2345). You'll find there's a great deal of support available to you once you make the decision to not smoke.

More on this topic

Understanding Wellness (VIDEO)

What Is Wellness?

Quit Smoking

Smoking & Your Arteries

Eat Healthy

Foods to Avoid

Foods to Enjoy

Fiber Helps Lower Cholesterol

Good Fats: Omegas 3 & 6

The Daily Nutrition You Need

Portion Control

Daily Exercise

Aerobic Exercise

Speed Up Your Metabolism

Benefits of Exercise

Lose Weight

Measuring Fat

Related Health Centers:

The 9 Visual Rules of Wellness, Wellness and Prevention Part I, Wellness and Prevention Part II, Reverse Aging

The material on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult a licensed medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions and before starting a new diet or exercise program. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.