How Does Smoking Harden Your Arteries?

23 February 2024

Medically reviewed by Dr. David Busby, MBChB, Smokefree Clinic

If smoking can affect your heart and vascular system, it can most certainly affect your arteries. These tube-like structures are responsible for blood flow inside your body – think of them as the main thoroughfares transporting nutrients everywhere.

Now, imagine how smoking’s dangerous chemicals can cause damage to these highways and the traffic it can cause. Smoking is a primary factor for developing arteriosclerosis – the thickening and stiffening of arterial walls.

Keep in mind that arteriosclerosis can lead to heart attacks and strokes. If ciggie smoke didn’t narrow your blood vessels enough, developing arteriosclerosis significantly increases your risk of heart and blood problems.

In today’s post, let’s look at how smoking hardens your arteries and if quitting can quickly and greatly reduce this development.

The Impact of Smoking on Cardiovascular Health

Putting smoking’s effects on your arteries aside for a second, we all know about the impact of smoking on your cardiovascular health.

Smoking is the leading cause of strokes and coronary heart disease, and these conditions have a ‘prerequisite’ condition called arteriosclerosis, which is where smoking plays a big role.

Chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause your LDL cholesterol – the ‘bad’ cholesterol – to rise to extremely high levels.

Acrolein, carbon monoxide, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are known to increase the production of LDL production in the body, with some of them reducing the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.

Formation of Arteriosclerotic Plaques

As mentioned earlier, arteriosclerosis happens due to the gradual buildup of fatty deposits, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances within the arterial walls due to high LDL levels stimulated by chemicals in cigarette smoke.

These plaques not only obstruct blood flow but also increase the vulnerability of arteries to rupture, which can cause potentially life-threatening cardiovascular events.

Inflammatory Response and Arterial Damage

It’s not surprising that chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause inflammation and damage to your arteries.

Carbon monoxide present in cigarette smoke binds to haemoglobin in the blood much faster and more readily than oxygen does. By reducing the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to tissues and organs, CO can lead to tissue damage and inflammation.

Combined with carbon monoxide’s effects on oxygenation and the respiratory irritation brought about by acrolein and the other chemicals in cigarette smoke, the simple act of smoking can lead to long-term arterial damage, which can also lead to aneurysm and COPD.

Oxidative Stress and Arterial Stiffening

Chemicals in cigarette smoke are also primary causes of oxidative stress in various organs and your arteries.

Oxidative stress is the harmful imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which attack the proteins and lipids in arterial walls. Aside from your arteries, the chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause oxidative stress in your heart, lungs, and other organs.

According to a review of 39 studies from various journals, it was found that the thousands of dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke are the major causes of oxidative stress in the body that leads to arterial stiffening.

Impact on Blood Flow and Vascular Function

In a traffic jam, nothing moves – and everyone’s angry because of the delays. In your body’s case, hardened and weak arteries can cause permanent damage to your body.

As smoking causes arteries to harden and narrow by encouraging higher levels of LDL, oxidative stress, and the buildup of fatty plaques, the heart must work harder to pump blood throughout the body.

Over time, this can cause hypertension, coronary artery disease, and peripheral artery disease to your body, all of which significantly elevate the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases.

Long-Term Consequences

If the heart has to work harder for a significant amount of time due to arteriosclerosis, you might face life-changing long-term consequences in the future.

Arteriosclerosis is a ‘gateway’ condition that can lead to other dangerous cardiovascular problems, such as angina, myocardial infarction, or stroke.

It has also been linked to diabetes and obesity, making it the bridge correlating cigarette smoke chemicals and these two conditions.

Arterial hardening can also affect other vital organs, including the brain and kidneys, increasing the risk of cognitive decline, dementia, and kidney disease.

Can I Reverse These Effects If I Quit Smoking Today?

Now that you know how smoking hardens your arteries and can lead to long-term physical damage, can you still reverse the damage?

You definitely can. In just a few weeks to a month of quitting, you’ll see significant changes in your cholesterol levels and improvements in your blood pressure.

It might feel a little uncomfortable during the first few weeks as you handle withdrawals and cravings. But after you get through this short but trying period, you’re home free.

You will see your blood pressure drop and reduce your risk of cardiovascular problems, along with other deadly but preventable diseases the chemicals in cigarette smoke can bring.

If you’d like to have the best chance of quitting, we highly recommend consulting a GP who can create a customised smoking cessation journey just for you and have someone monitor your progress in the most objective and helpful way possible.

Summary

It’s no surprise that chemicals in cigarette smoke can harden your arteries and cause it to narrow. Now that you understand how these chemicals can cause arterial blockage and eventual damage, you now have enough motivation to quit smoking for good.

However, we also understand that smoking is a difficult habit to quit, and that’s why we’re here to help.

Smokefree Clinic gives you access to many medically reviewed and trustworthy resources that can inform and aid you in your path to wellness, so have a look around!

If you’re ready to get started, Smokefree can connect you to friendly Australian healthcare professionals who excel in helping patients quit smoking for good, including using responsible vaping products where appropriate.

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