Anatomy And Physiology

How Smoking Damages the Circulatory System



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Lighting that cigarette and inhaling after morning coffee, an enjoyable meal, a drink with friends, sex - just about anything - clears the mind, eases breathing, calms nerves, and lightens the spirit. At the same time that all of these pleasurable sensations are going on, something else is occurring inside of the smoker's body, especially in the circulatory system.

Blood pressure rises which may make the smoker feel more alert. The heart rate increases, as much as 30 percent during the first ten minutes of smoking. Tar, a major component of the inhaled smoke goes into the lungs and coats the alveoli, the small cellular branches responsible for oxygen CO2 exchange. As the level of tar coating increases, the smoker is able to get less and less oxygen into his blood supply. The smoker begins to wheeze and cough. If the smoking continues for years, the smoker may develop emphysema or lung cancer, each of which will lead to decreased oxygen absorption into the blood.

A person who smokes one pack of cigarettes a day for a year is in effect smearing a cup of tar on his/her lungs. But tar isn't the only toxic substance in inhaled smoke. There are 4000 different chemicals: Carbon Monoxide, Ammonia, Hydrogen Cyanide, and Lead are just a few and each has the potential to damage the lungs and other organs of the body. An even sadder note is that cigarette smoke can be even more damaging for non-smokers because the particles are smaller and go even deeper into the lungs. Smoke for a teenager, whether it is from the teen smoking or inhaling that from family members can cause retardation in the development of the lungs. As adults, they may wind up with decreased lung capacity, limiting their physical activity.

Smoking accounts for 80-90 % of obstructive pulmonary diseases. The lungs provide the oxygen supply for the blood, but smoking damages more than the lungs. Smoking causes atherosclerosis, the build up of fatty deposits on the inside of the carotid artery. The build up leads to narrowing and stiffening of other blood vessels which causes high blood pressure, poor circulation, a higher heart rate, and in some cases, rupture of the blood vessels. The heart is stressed and the smoker is twice as likely to die from a heart attack as a non-smoker. The build up of plaque inside of arteries coupled with a less efficient heart is a recipe for strokes. Smoking makes the blood more sticky making it more likely to clot. Twenty-four percent of strokes are a direct result of smoking.

Smoking also causes peripheral vascular disease. Without an adequate oxygen supply to the body, less blood-rich oxygen is transported to the extremities. Numbness, tingling, even ulcers may be a result. The purple lower legs and feet seen in chronic smokers are due to poor circulation. Sadly, smokers underestimate the damage their addiction causes. Only 29% of smokers surveyed believe that smoking causes heart disease.

400,000 Americans die from smoking-related diseases each year, about half of them directly due to the negative impact on the circulatory system. Perhaps it's time to put bed-ridden skeletons surviving on oxygen in the saddle with the Marlboro Man. Maybe then, people would get the message. Smoking kills.

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More about this author: Cynthia Wall

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