You’re sitting at your doctor’s appointment discussing your family’s health history, as well as your own. Time and time again your doctor has made sure you are not a smoker, or have not been one in the past. You’ve always assured them you’ve never picked up a cigarette in your life…but have you? Many people who are not smokers often are not aware that they should be informing their doctor if a significant other, family member, roommate, or co-worker smokes. At your own doctor’s appointment, you often don’t consider the actions of others to affect your own wellbeing. There are serious, life-threatening effects of secondhand smoke, especially as we get older.
In addition, it’s important to understand that lung cancer and respiratory issues are not the only dangers of secondhand smoke you need to be concerned about. Secondhand smoking and atherosclerosis (plaque buildup within the arteries) can develop over your lifetime. We examine how smoking affects your heart and blood vessels, even when you’re not the one “lighting up”.
What Is Secondhand Smoke?
In middle and high school, we are taught that smoking should be avoided at all costs, but how bad is secondhand smoke? Secondhand smoke, often referred to as passive smoking, is the combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke breathed out by smokers.
Experiencing secondhand smoke inhalation indoors is far worse than outdoors; however, many studies have shown that people who were within five feet from a smoker could still be severely affected. If a family member is involved, secondhand smoking can be extremely difficult to avoid. It’s important to consider the dangers of secondhand smoke, because medical materials discussing risks often only focus on direct smokers.
Is Secondhand Smoke Worse Than Smoking?
Secondhand smoke exposure isn’t worse than smoking, but it can be just as bad. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that, “secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds are toxic and about 70 can cause cancer.”
We know the link between secondhand smoke and vascular disease exists; however, more studies need to be conducted. The effects of secondhand smoke on our health can last a lifetime. This is why you should attempt to avoid it whenever you can.
The Effects of Secondhand Smoke On Our Health
We know the effects of secondhand smoke are numerous, but what are the real risks? According to the CDC, even brief secondhand smoke exposure can damage cells in ways that set cancer processes in motion. As we mentioned above, cancer and respiratory infections are not the only effects of secondhand smoke on our health. Other dangers of secondhand smoke include:
- Birth defects
- Asthma in adults and children
- Shortness of breath
- Ear infections
- Throat cancer
- Constricted blood vessels and arteries
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
- Heart attacks or strokes
- Blood clots
The effects of secondhand smoke on the heart, blood vessels, and arteries are not always talked about. Even if you don’t actively smoke tobacco products, secondhand smoke exposes you to the same chemicals that cause heart attacks, blood clots, strokes, and vascular diseases.
How Does Smoking Affect Your Heart and Blood Vessels?
Smoking directly affects your heart and blood vessels. Unfortunately, the dangers of secondhand smoke are similar to actually tobacco smoking. Chemicals in secondhand smoke can irritate the lining of your arteries, causing them to swell. Evidently, inflammation increase plaque buildup which can lead to the narrowing of blood vessels and arteries.
Additionally, nicotine (even at low levels) can cause your blood vessels to constrict or narrow. This ultimately limits the amount of blood that can successfully flow to your organs and extremities. Over time, this constant constriction causes blood vessels and arteries to stiffen becoming less elastic. Smoking, as well as secondhand smoke, also constricts the blood vessels and decreases the amount of oxygen your cells are able to effectively receive.
Living Around Secondhand Smoke
Living around secondhand smoke can have life-long consequences. Grandparents, parents, and other relatives in the household may not consider the lifelong risks of the other residences when they choose to smoke cigars, pipes, cigarettes, or other tobacco products inside the home.
Unfortunately, jobs that allow smoking inside could also put other employees at risk. For example, a study conducted in Beijing, China, showed that women exposed to secondhand smoke either at home or in the workplace had a 67% increased risk of PAD compared to those who were not.
Secondhand Smoke and Peripheral Artery Disease
Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a serious condition affecting the lower extremities including the thighs, calves, ankles, and feet. Depending on the severity of your condition, people with PAD may have partially or fully blocked arteries. This blockage occurs when plaque accumulates within the arteries, cutting off the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the lower legs. When this happens, people may experience a few different symptoms such as pain in the legs, thighs, calves, or buttons, difficulty walking, etc.
When secondhand smoke constricts arterial blood flow, this can lead to PAD. When your lower extremities are not getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to function, serious complications can happen such as heart attack, stroke, blood clot, or amputation. Both passive and active smoking affects your heart and blood vessels by causing inflammation.
If you’re experiencing the early signs of PAD and worried that smoking could be the cause, contact our vascular specialists today to learn how you can get tested. Give us a call at 888.773.2193 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation.
How Does Smoking Relate to Heart Attacks and Atherosclerosis?
Both active and passive smoking can cause heart attacks, strokes, blood clots, amputations, and severe atherosclerosis, also known as plaque buildup within the arteries. Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure levels, family history of vascular disease, obesity, age, and smoking can cause atherosclerosis and PAD. If you have been exposed to secondhand smoke, not only do you have to be concerned about lung cancer, but heart attacks and PAD as well. Atherosclerosis is built up over time; therefore, it’s important to get checked by a vascular specialist before your condition worsens. It is easier to treat plaque buildup in its early stages, which can in turn, prevent a heart attack from occurring.
In addition, the connection between active and passive smoking and strokes is strong. Your blood vessels and arteries supply your organs, especially your brain, with oxygen; therefore, a stroke could occur if they are blocked by plaque caused by inflammation. Being proactive about the dangers of secondhand smoke exposure could inherently save your life.
Treating PAD Caused by Secondhand Smoke
Experiencing the effects of secondhand smoke can make you feel like your health is out of your control, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Although peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition, it is easily treatable if diagnosed early. It’s important to get an Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI) test if you’ve been exposed to secondhand smoke for an extensive amount of time. An ABI will determine the severity of arterial blockages in the lower extremities.
USA Vascular Centers has facilities across the nation which makes it easy to schedule a visit. Whether you are experiencing symptoms related to PAD, are at risk, or just want to learn more, we are here to help. Give us a call at 888.773.2193 or contact us online if you or a loved one would like to learn more or get tested for PAD.