The best way to protect your heart against heart disease is to quit smoking. Women who smoke are just as likely to die of heart disease as of lung cancer. Women who smoke have two to six times the heart-attack risk as nonsmokers do, and smokers are almost four times more likely to die of a heart attack.
Watch out for secondhand smoke
Secondhand smoking (inhaling smoke from other people's cigarettes) causes heart damage in nonsmokers. Secondhand smoke exposure is widespread in the United States and throughout the world. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found detectable levels of serum cotinine (a by-product of nicotine) in 9 out of every 10 nonsmokers in a large, nationally representative sample.
This is dire news because regular exposure to secondhand smoke doubles a woman's risk for a heart attack, according to a study of 32,000 nurses published in the medical journal Circulation.
The benefits of not smoking
Low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes won't help protect your heart-the only solution is to kick the habit completely. Even if you've smoked for most of your life, giving up cigarettes can help reduce the risk for heart attack and stroke.
As soon as you quit, you also will begin to reduce your risk for developing lung cancer, other respiratory disorders and stroke. And you won't miss the expense: a two-pack-a-day smoker can spend more than $25,000 on cigarettes in a decade.
Giving up cigarettes also doesn't have to make you fat. Some studies indicate that the average woman who quits smoking only gains 5 to 10 pounds.
Tips to help you kick the habit
Congratulations on your decision to quit smoking. Consult with your physician for advice, enlist the support of your loved ones and friends, and pick a day to begin. With a support network in place, you'll be off to a good start. Here are some additional tips:
- Use the nicotine patch or gum to reduce the craving for nicotine, which is addictive.
- Join a quit-smoking support group or a chat room on the web.
Check at your local hospital for support group information. For instance, St. John's Hospital in Maplewood hosts a weekly Nicotine Anonymous support group. Meetings are held Mondays from 7 to 8:30 pm in the Watson Education Center located in the Maplewood Professional Building, 1655 Beam Ave. (on the St. John's Hospital campus).
You can also go to QUITPLAN.com or call 1-888-354-PLAN for help with creating a plan to quit smoking. For more information on learning how to quit smoking, visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Information Center Web site, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov.
- Keep your hands busy by reading, writing, knitting, drawing, and so on.
- Brush your teeth when you first wake up and after you eat.
- Give yourself a break. If you slip and have one or two cigarettes, you're not alone. Many people who have successfully quit smoking experience a slip. Don't be discouraged. Instead, get back on track as a nonsmoker.
"Women and Heart Disease: Kicking the Smoking Habit," NHLBI, 1995.