Stroke is a leading cause of death in the US. And even those who survive a stroke may be permanently disabled.
A stroke occurs when an artery that provides oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the brain is partially or completely blocked, or ruptures. The part of the brain depending on that artery becomes damaged and the cells die.
Smoking cigarettes greatly increases your risk of stroke. Even secondhand smoke can make it more likely that you suffer a stroke.
When your cardiovascular system is working the way it should, there is room for the blood to circulate through veins and arteries as your heart beats. Cells throughout the body receive fuel and oxygen from blood and waste products are circulated to the kidneys to be eliminated.
Here’s where things can break down and smoking can lead to stroke:
- There are two types of cholesterol in your blood, “good” or HDL cholesterol and “bad” or LDL cholesterol. Smoking decreases levels of good cholesterol and increases bad cholesterol. Too much cholesterol can form plaque that sticks to the walls of your arteries. Plaque both makes it harder for blood to get through the blood vessels. Plaque may also become dislodged, potentially causing a blockage that leads to stroke.
- Blood Pressure. Smoking increases blood pressure by raising your heart rate – an effect of nicotine. When artery walls thicken due to plaque buildup, that can reduced the room through which blood can freely flow, also increasing blood pressure. High blood pressure (hypertension), when it damages blood vessels in the brain, can lead to stroke.
- “Sticky” Blood. Chemicals associated with cigarette smoke, including nicotine and the increase in your blood levels of carbon monoxide when you smoke, make the platelets in your blood stick together. Thus, the blood of a smoker can be thicker and clot more easily than that of a nonsmoker. Blood clots can potentially block your arteries and cause a stroke.
Overall, smoking reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, increases heart rate, raises blood pressure, makes blood stickier and more likely to clot, thickens the walls of the arteries so they are easier to block, and damages the blood vessels in your brain. Any of these factors make stroke more likely among smokers. In fact, smokers have been shown to be two to four times more likely to have a stroke than nonsmokers.
Smoking After a Stroke
People who smoke after suffering a stroke have a high risk of dying from subsequent stroke. It’s never too late to quit smoking. The health benefits begin as soon as the first day after your last cigarette. Even after a stroke or cardiac event, quitting smoking makes a huge difference in how long you live and how you feel.
Research suggests that stopping smoking is more effective in preventing additional strokes than any other treatment or medication. The damage done by cigarettes is invisible until there is a major health crisis. Quitting tobacco is one of the best things you can do for your health. Period.
Expert Care for Stroke and Aneurysms
Neurologists are doctors with advanced training in the nervous and vascular systems in the brain. At Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery in Colorado, our board-certified cranial surgeons help people with stroke or cerebral vascular accidents (CVAs). Our doctors see patients at three locations: Lone Tree, Colorado Springs, and Arora. For more than 15 years, Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery has provided expert diagnosis and care, both surgical and nonsurgical, for conditions affecting the brain, spine and peripheral nerves. Call (303) 790-1800 today to schedule your appointment.