Everyone knows smoking causes cancer and other health-related illnesses, but no one seems to take smoking-related diseases seriously until they are diagnosed with one. How can you ignore that first warning sign when you cough every morning upon waking? And if you start smoking in your early teens, by the time you are legal age to smoke, you are already on your way to early cardiovascular disease. You don’t have to be old to be affected by smoking.
Take cancer for example. No one wants to get cancer, yet everyday millions of people intentionally use a product known to cause this disease. While most immediately think of lung cancer, there are at least 13 other cancers, including acute myeloid leukemia, that could affect you. With nearly 70 cancer-causing chemicals in cigarette smoke, including heavy metals and radioactive elements, and 7,000 other chemicals in the smoke, any one of them could start a growth. The probabilities of some of these cancers in smokers are staggering: lung cancer increases by 15X; throat and uterine cancer 16X; oral cancer 10X; and the risk of bladder and prostate cancers double.
If you don’t develop cancer, there is cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease, atherosclerosis, peripheral arterial diseases, abdominal aortic aneurysm and stroke, and is the single largest cause of death in the U.S. The chemicals in the smoke causes inflammation in the blood vessels which causes them to swell and narrow. The arteries become less flexible, and fat and cholesterol builds up along the artery walls making it more difficult for blood to move through the vessels. The blood also thickens which can cause clots to form in the narrowed veins and arteries in the heart, and if clots form in the brain it can lead to stroke. Vessels in the arms, hands, legs and feet can also be affected by narrowing and decreased blood flow can result in amputations. The aorta, the main artery carrying oxygen-rich blood through the body can be weakened or form a bulge by smoking.
Respiratory diseases are also too common among smokers, but genetics can also play a part in who develops this disease. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and includes lung diseases such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma. 8 out of 10 cases are caused by smoking and secondhand smoke, although the COPD Foundation site says the number is closer to 90%. If you are 40 years of age or older, a smoker or former smoker and have “breathlessness, frequent coughing, wheezing, and tightness in the chest,” you need to speak to a doctor. While there is no cure for COPD, the earlier the symptoms are treated and managed, the better the outcome.
While the above diseases are usually seen in older smokers, yellow teeth and wrinkled dry skin starts early and quickly ages a smoker. If you started smoking to look older, you achieved your goal. Here’s another goal to think about: 70% of adult smokers want to quit. These diseases don’t care how old you are when they develop, and you don’t have to wait until you develop one of them to stop smoking. The sooner you quit, the sooner your body starts healing. Below are some links to help you on your way to your new smoke-free life.