Why You Should Quit Smoking After a Heart Attack

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As many as 40% of smokers who have heart attacks continue to smoke after they recover. But it’s crucial to stop smoking post-heart attack, as smoking greatly raises your risk of further cardiovascular events, like another heart attack or a stroke. Research shows quitting smoking can cut your risk of another heart attack in half. Quitting isn’t easy, but there are steps you can take to stop smoking for good. And if you find that your efforts to quit aren’t enough, your doctor can help you develop a more effective plan to help you kick the habit.

Smoking’s Effect on Your Body

You probably already know that smoking dramatically increases your risk for lung cancer. But smoking is also linked to many other health issues, including heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), gum disease, vision and hearing problems, and even depression and anxiety.

Heart Attack Stories: Cardiac Rehab

Every time you smoke, you inhale carbon monoxide into your lungs. This harmful gas increases the amount of cholesterol your body stores in the inner lining of your arteries, the blood vessels carrying oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. With extra cholesterol in your artery’s linings, the arteries become harder and less flexible, increasing your risk for another heart attack.

Cigarettes also contain nicotine. Beyond its addictive properties, nicotine has been shown to increase your heart rate and blood pressure. It also causes your blood vessels to narrow and may harden the walls of your arteries. Like carbon monoxide, this increases your risk for future cardiovascular events.

Kicking the Habit

There are several steps you can take to help you quit for good. Keep in mind you’re more likely to stop smoking if you take time to prepare to quit, including recognizing that you may have cravings for cigarettes and other strong feelings after your last cigarette. When you’re ready to quit, try looking at quitting as a series of steps toward better health and a lower risk of future heart attacks. While each person is different, research shows following some specific steps can be effective.

  1. Pick a date to quit. The day itself doesn’t matter, but your intent to quit does. Share your decision with supportive people who can help keep you accountable as you quit smoking.

  2. Decide how to quit. Some people find success by quitting “cold turkey,” but this option may not be reasonable for you. It’s important to pick a realistic way to stop smoking, which may include a gradual decrease in the number of cigarettes you smoke each day or smoking only part of each cigarette you pick up.

  3. Get help if you need it. Quitting can be very difficult, but certain products and medications are designed to help make the process easier. Both nicotine gum and patches give you a nicotine boost without the need to smoke. Your doctor can also prescribe non-nicotine medications to help you get through any nicotine withdrawal you might experience.

  4. Have a support system. As you try to quit, it’s important to surround yourself with people who don’t smoke. Alerting loved ones about your decision to quit will generate much positive encouragement. Nonsmoking friends and family can also help support you through cravings, withdrawal symptoms, or other difficulties you experience on your journey to better health.

  5. Recognize your achievements. Even if you only cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke every day, it’s still a huge achievement that takes a lot of willpower. Recognizing and celebrating your progress boosts your motivation to continue and helps you get through the harder times during the process.

After a heart attack, one of the best things you can do for your health is quit smoking. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to quit, you can create a plan that gives you the best chance at putting down cigarettes for good. Quitting can be a difficult process, but it’s possible with dedication, planning, and the support of your friends, family, and doctor.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Oct 3
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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