Cigarettes’ harmful claim to fame isn’t limited to your lungs or your heart. How does smoking hurt your body? Let us take a look at the ways cigarettes attack the body and you’ll have a better idea. Smoking not only cuts lives short, but greatly decreases quality of life as well.
Most cigarettes contain over 4,000 chemicals, including “human-friendly” ones like cyanide and formaldehyde. Sixty of these chemicals are known to cause cancer. The list of smoking-related cancers keeps growing and includes:
Heart and Blood Vessels
Blood carries cigarette poisons throughout the circulatory system. Among other effects, these poisons damage and narrow blood vessels, increasing the heart rate while decreasing the flow of oxygen to the rest of the body. These are a few of the cardiovascular conditions smoking contributes to:
Chemicals in cigarettes irritate air passages and lungs. They slow—and eventually stop—the cleansing action in the lungs, so poisons can remain there. Lungs become vulnerable to problems like these:
Bones, Joints, and Muscles
By reducing blood supply, smoking weakens both muscles and bones. It also slows the production of bone-forming cells and keeps your body from absorbing calcium. Here are some of the effects:
- Increased risk for bone fractures, which also take longer to heal
- Higher complication rate after surgeries
Increased risk of overuse injuries, such as
bursitis; greater chance of
- Negative impact on sports performance—slower pace and shortness of breath
low back pain
rheumatoid arthritis—a progressive disease causing swelling in joints
Smoking hurts the digestive system, which means the body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs. Smoking does this by:
Injuring the esophagus, allowing stomach acids to flow back (called
heartburn) into the esophagus, and by making stomach acids more harmful
Increasing acidity, increasing the risk for an infection that leads to open sores in the stomach or small intestine (called
Leading to inflammation in the lining of the intestine (called
- Changing the way the liver handles drugs and alcohol
Smokers notice the change in their brains almost the minute they light up. Smoking quickly changes brain chemistry, affecting mood and often leading to addiction. Brain chemistry changes, as well as decreased blood flow, increase the risk for:
Need to hear more? Smokers are at increased risk of developing the most common type of
diabetes. These are a few of smoking’s
- Reduced sense of smell and taste
- Premature skin aging from reduced blood flow and vitamins
- Increased risk for gum disease
Increased risk for cloudy lens in the eye (called
cataract)—a leading cause of blindness
Increased risk for
infertility, and problems during pregnancy and delivery
In babies of smoking mothers—increased risk for low birth weight, reduced lung function, and
sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
at an earlier age; increased number of menopausal symptoms
And Now for the Good News
The benefits of quitting begin almost immediately. Heart rate drops within minutes. Circulation and breathing improve within months. And, among other improvements, your risk of
much lower after five years of quitting. Although it’s best to quit when you’re younger, you can benefit at
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http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/smoking/index.htm. Accessed September 30, 2005.
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http://www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm?id=AN00644. Accessed September 30, 2005.
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http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/sgr/sgr_forwomen/ataglance.htm. Accessed September 30, 2005.
Last reviewed November 2011 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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