Tobacco and heart health do not go well together

Think about your heart’s health and say no to tobacco

We often associate smoking with lung diseases, yet we tend to forget its harmful effects on the heart. According to the WHO, one in five deaths due to heart disease is directly linked to smoking – and this is quite an alarming figure! Dr. Gopaul, cardiologist at the Clinique Bon Pasteur, discusses the question.

Tobacco use causes millions of deaths worldwide every year. When it comes to heart health only, the numbers are chilling. ‘A smoker is 2 to 3 times more likely to have a coronary heart attack – especially a heart attack – than a non-smoker, and 5 times more likely to develop peripheral arterial disease, such as ischaemia of the lower limbs,’ says Dr. Gopaul. The underlying cause is the composition of tobacco of more than 4,000 toxic substances.

Nicotine, for instance, entails the release of cathecholamines, which have the effect of increasing heart rate and blood pressure. ‘The heart muscle’s need for oxygen increases, which is harmful for patients with existing coronary conditions, and the size of coronary vessels is reduced under the vasoconstrictor effect,’ the doctor continues. Smoking also contributes to the inflammation of the arteries’ inner walls and increases the risk of developing blood clots.

For the Doctor, whether it is active, passive or occasional smoking, the effects on the heart are still damaging. ‘For example, a person who lives with a smoker has greater chances of developing a respiratory or cardiovascular disease, such as myocardial infarction or stroke. This is particularly worrisome for children or pregnant women, with a risk of having premature or low-weight babies,’ he says.

The most common cardiac pathology among smokers remains coronary heart attack – often resulting in sudden death or sequelae such as heart failure and rhythm or conduction disorders. ‘However, tobacco is also responsible for an increase in blood pressure and rhythm disorders, including atrial fibrillation. Such pathologies can cause heart dysfunction,’ explains Dr. Gopaul.

While the risk of heart disease is accentuated by smoking, many other risk factors also weigh in the balance: high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes (especially Type 2), obesity, sedentary lifestyle, stress, a family history of cardiovascular diseases… To ensure optimal heart health, it is therefore advisable to adopt a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and regular exercise, and to avoid stress.

If you think you are having a heart attack, call the emergency services right away. The recognisable signs include chest pain or discomfort radiating through the neck, arms and back, associated with sweating, nausea, faintness and, sometimes, a feeling of imminent death. Heart attack can however be atypical – with abdominal pain or discomfort in the left arm – or even asymptomatic. ‘From the first symptoms, the patient must be put to complete rest in a quiet environment, before calling an ambulance. Treating a heart attack in less than 4 to 6 hours reduces the risks of complications. Hence the common saying: time is muscle!’ advises Dr. Gopaul. There’s not a second to waste for your health!

To book an appointment with one of our specialists for a cardiac assessment, please contact the medical secretaries at the consultation desk on 401 9500, or go to the ‘Doctors’ page on our website.


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