Smoking and Heart Failure: Why You Need to Quit

Cigarettes both cause and worsen this condition.

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If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, your heart is already working overtime to do its job: pumping nutrient-rich blood throughout the body. One of the most effective ways to give your heart a break and improve your heart failure symptoms, according to cardiologist Dennis A. Goodman, MD, is to quit smoking.

Years of smoking not only cause heart failure, but increase the complications associated with heart failure. The effects of smoking attack the lungs, the airways, the blood vessels, and the heart itself, all putting extra stress on the heart. That’s like hooking up a seven-ton camper to a truck with a faulty engine.

Each cigarette drag damages the blood vessels and causes them to harden and constrict, which means the heart has to work even harder to transport blood and nutrients throughout the body.

This damage isn’t necessarily permanent. Studies have found that the body begins to repair itself within seconds of your last cigarette. In fact, in less than a month of your last cigarette, you should notice that walking and exercising becomes easier, ⸺a sign that your airways and circulation are already healing and taking in oxygen more effectively. (Here’s the exact timeline of what happens to your body when you quit smoking.)

Quitting smoking is obviously not easy. Dr. Goodman recommends two tasks for beginning the journey. First of all, commit. You have to want to quit smoking. If it helps, write down as many reasons you want to quit smoking as you can think of, and post them up on your fridge or on your bathroom mirror. Whenever you feel inclined to give up, find motivation from your list.

Once you’ve made the commitment, ask for help or look for strategies to quit smoking. What works for someone else may not be the solution for you, so it’s important to keep trying a variety of quitting strategies until you can rediscover your healthiest self.

For more tips, here are eight healthy habits for living with heart failure.