Health Beat: This Valentine's Day, love your heart

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

February 14 is Valentine's Day -- a day to celebrate love in its many forms. But did you know that nearly 50 years ago, February was designated as American Heart Month? During this month, we raise awareness about the risks for heart disease, as well as healthy lifestyle changes that can reduce cardiovascular risks and promote healthy hearts.

Given that February is dedicated to celebrating love, caring and heart health, it's a great time to improve your own heart health or encourage loved ones to improve theirs by quitting smoking. About 130,000 cardiovascular disease deaths per year in the United States are attributable to smoking. Also, approximately 26 percent of heart attacks and 12--19 percent of strokes are attributable to smoking. The Surgeon General has concluded that cigarette smoking greatly increases one's risk for heart disease. Being smoke-free and eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke is important to heart health. Quitting smoking could be the best Valentine's Day present you can give to your family or your loved ones.

Smoking and heart health

When you smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke, cells that line your body's blood vessels react to the poisons in tobacco smoke almost immediately. Your heart rate and blood pressure go up. Your blood vessels grow narrower. Chemical changes caused by tobacco smoke also make blood more likely to clot. Clots can form and block blood flow to your heart.

Smoking is one cause of dangerous plaque buildup inside your arteries. Plaque clogs and narrows your arteries. This can trigger chest pain, weakness, heart attack or stroke. Plaque can rupture and cause clots that block arteries. Completely blocked arteries can cause sudden death. Smoking is not the only cause of these problems, but it makes them much worse.

Secondhand smoke and heart health

Tobacco smoke hurts anyone who breathes it. When you breathe secondhand smoke, platelets in your blood get sticky and may form clots, just like in a person who smokes. Research shows even spending time in a smoky room could trigger a heart attack. There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Even brief exposure can be harmful to your health, especially if you are at risk for heart disease.

Quitting saves lives

You have years of life to gain and love to give by quitting smoking. Your risk for heart attack drops sharply just one year after you quit smoking. In fact, even if you've already had a heart attack, you cut your risk of having another one by a third to a half if you quit smoking. Because secondhand smoke also affects others and can increase their risk for heart attack and death, quitting smoking can help protect your loved ones. Make an effort during this heartfelt holiday to stop smoking and/or to encourage your loved ones to stop smoking.

Support to quit

For free quit support, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). This service provides free support and advice from experienced counselors, a personalized quit plan, self-help materials, the latest information about cessation medications and more.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: