Cigerette smoke - heart health article

How does smoking affect the heart

Effects of smoking on heart health

3 May 2024

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Australia.

Beyond well-known health risks such as lung cancer, smoking can also increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

How does smoking affect the heart and blood vessels?

Smoking damages blood vessels and speeds up the formation of plaque in the coronary arteries - known as atherosclerosis - which can reduce blood flow to the heart, increasing the risk of heart attack.

Smoking can also damage blood vessels in other parts of the body, including the arms and legs - this condition is referred to as peripheral arterial disease (PAD). PAD can cause restricted blood flow in these areas which can lead to clots, open sores that don’t heal, and gangrene, which may require amputation.

Smoking can also increase heart disease risk by causing a temporary increase in blood pressure, raising LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol, and reducing levels of HDL ‘good’ cholesterol.

How common is heart disease amongst smokers?

More than a third of cardiovascular disease deaths in Australians aged less than 65 are caused by smoking.

Smoking also doubles the risk of heart attack and stroke and increases the risk of peripheral arterial disease by more than five times.

Can secondhand smoke cause heart disease?

Secondhand smoke can increase the risk of heart disease in nonsmokers. Research has shown that adults who are exposed to secondhand smoke – for example those who live with a smoker - may increase their risk of heart disease by up to 30 percent.

Does quitting smoking reduce heart disease risk?

The good news is that quitting smoking can reduce the risk of heart disease and improve heart health.

Within hours of quitting, your blood pressure will become more stable.

Within five years of quitting, your risk of cardiovascular disease will drop significantly.

Within 10 to 15 years of quitting, your risk of cardiovascular disease will be similar to that of someone who has never smoked.

Ways to quit smoking to lower heart disease risk

Some strategies that may help you to quit smoking and improve heart health include:

It’s also important to remember that every attempt to quit is getting you closer to quitting for good.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years