Skip directly to search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to navigation Skip directly to site content Skip directly to page options
CDC Home

Smoking and Heart Disease and Stroke

What Are Heart Disease and Stroke?

Heart disease and stroke are cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) diseases.1

Heart disease includes several types of heart conditions. The most common type in the United States is coronary heart disease (also known as coronary artery disease), which is narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart.2,3 This can cause:

  • Chest pain2
  • Heart attack (when blood flow to the heart becomes blocked and a section of the heart muscle is damaged or dies)2,4
  • Heart failure (when the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs)2,5
  • Arrhythmia (when the heart beats too fast, too slow, or irregularly)2,6

A stroke, sometimes called a brain attack, can occur when a clot blocks the blood supply to part of the brain. Stroke can also occur when a blood vessel in or around the brain bursts. In either case, parts of the brain become damaged or die.7 Stroke can cause disability (such as paralysis, muscle weakness, trouble speaking, memory loss)8 or death.

Top of Page

Smoking is a leading cause of heart disease. Smoking can:9

  • Raise triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood)
  • Lower "good" cholesterol (HDL)
  • Damage cells that line the blood vessels
  • Cause thickening and narrowing of blood vessels
  • Cause clots to form, blocking blood flow to the heart

 

Secondhand smoke also damages blood vessels and can trigger a heart attack or stroke.9,10

Smoking is a leading cause of stroke. Smoking can:11

  • Make blood thicker and more likely to clot
  • Increase the buildup of plaque (fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances) in blood vessels leading to the brain
  • Lead to pain in the hands and feet; it may be severe
  • Damage blood vessels in the brain

Top of Page

How Can Heart Disease and Stroke Be Prevented?

Heart disease and stroke are major causes of death and disability in the United States. Many people are at high risk for these diseases and don't know it. The good news is that many risk factors for heart disease and stroke can be prevented or controlled.

The federal government’s Million Hearts™ initiative works to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.

Talk with your health care provider about your ABCS:12
  • Appropriate aspirin therapy for those who need it
  • Blood pressure control
  • Cholesterol management
  • Smoking cessation (quitting smoking)

 

In addition to your ABCS, several lifestyle choices can help protect your heart and brain health. These include the followinging:13,14

  • Avoid breathing secondhand smoke
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit alcohol use

Top of Page

How Are Heart Disease and Stroke Treated?

Coronary Heart Disease
Along with adopting lifestyle behaviors, treatment for coronary heart disease may include:

  • Medicines to help:15
    • Lower the workload on your heart
    • Decrease your chance of having a heart attack or dying suddenly
    • Lower your LDL ("bad") cholesterol
    • Lower your blood pressure
    • Stop blood clots from forming
  • A procedure or surgery to restore blood flow to your heart:15
    • Angioplasty: A procedure to open a blocked or narrow artery in the heart. A thin tube with a balloon at the tip is guided through a blood vessel to reach the blocked artery. The balloon is filled and opens up the artery, increasing blood flow. Sometimes a small tube or stent is left in the artery to keep it open.
    • Coronary artery bypass grafting: Surgery in which the doctor removes arteries or veins from other parts of the body and uses them to bypass (go around) narrowed or blocked heart arteries.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation, which is a program to improve the health and well-being of people who have heart disease. It includes:16
    • Exercise training
    • Education on healthy living
    • Counseling on stress reduction

Top of Page

Heart Attack
A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you think you are having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 right away. Do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment right away. Every minute counts!

The five most common symptoms of a heart attack are:17

  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
  • Feeling weak, lightheaded, or faint
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder
  • Shortness of breath

Acting fast at the first sign of heart attack symptoms can save your life and limit damage to your heart. Treatment works best when it's started right away. Treatment for heart attack can include:18

  • Oxygen therapy
  • Medicines to thin your blood and prevent further clotting, lower your heart's workload, increase blood flow to your heart, lower your blood pressure, and/or lower pain and anxiety
  • Angioplasty
  • Coronary artery bypass grafting

Treatment doesn’t stop after you leave the hospital. At home, this may include:18

  • Daily medicines
  • Cardiac rehabilitation
  • Lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking and staying away from secondhand smoke, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight

Top of Page

Stroke
A stroke is a medical emergency. If you think you are having a stroke, call 9-1-1 right away. Do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment right away. Every minute counts!

The five most common signs and symptoms of stroke are:19

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg
  • Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding others
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden dizziness, trouble walking, or loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Early treatment can reduce stroke damage. Patients who arrive at the emergency room within 3 hours of their first symptoms are healthier 3 months after a stroke than those whose care was delayed.20

Treatment for a stroke depends on whether it is from a blocked blood vessel or from a blood vessel that has burst. Treatment for stroke can include:21

  • Medicines to:
    • Break up blood clots in the arteries of the brain
    • Keep blood clots from getting larger and stop new blood clots from forming
    • Lower blood pressure
  • Medical procedures to open blocked carotid arteries
  • Surgery to remove blood from around the brain and to fix damaged blood vessels (if bleeding occurred) or to remove plaque from the larger arteries to the brain  (if blockage occurred)

Treatment doesn’t stop after you leave the hospital. At home, this may include:

  • Lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking, avoiding secondhand smoke, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight21,22
  • Daily medicines22
  • Rehabilitation to help relearn skills that were lost when part of the brain was damaged22

Top of Page

References

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A Report of the Surgeon General. The Health Consequences of Smoking: What It Means to You. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2004 [accessed 2014 May 15].
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) [last updated 2013 Mar 12; accessed 2014 May 15].
  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Coronary Heart Disease [last reviewed 2012 June 22; accessed 2014 May 15].
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease: Heart Attack [last updated 2013 Mar 12; accessed 2014 May 15].
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Failure Fact Sheet [last updated 2013 Dec 3; accessed 2014 Jan 10].
  6. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Is Arrhythmia? [last updated 2011 July 1; accessed 2014 May 15].
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke [last updated 2014 Mar 17; accessed 2014 May 15].
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke: Types of Stroke [last updated 2013 Dec 6; accessed 2014 May 15].
  9. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A Report of the Surgeon General. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: What It Means to You. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2010 [accessed 2014 May 15].
  10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014 [accessed 2014 May 15].
  11. National Institute of Neurological Disorders. Brain Basics: Preventing Stroke [last updated 2014 Apr 28; accessed 2014 May 15].
  12. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Million Hearts™ [accessed 2014 May 15].
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease: Prevention: What You Can Do [last updated 2013 May 9; accessed 2014 May 15].
  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke: How to Prevent Stroke [last updated 2014 Mar 17; accessed 2014 May 15].
  15. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Is Cardiac Rehabilitation? [last updated 2013 Dec 24; accessed 2014 Jan 10].
  16. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Is Cardiac Rehabilitation? [last updated 2013 Dec 24; accessed 2014 May 15].
  17. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease: Signs and Symptoms [last updated 2013 March 18; accessed 2014 May 15].
  18. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. How Is a Heart Attack Treated? [last updated 2013 Dec 17; accessed 2014 May 15].
  19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke Signs and Symptoms [last updated 2014 Mar 17; accessed 2014 May 15].
  20. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke: Stroke Facts [last updated 2014 Mar 17; accessed 2014 May 15].
  21. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. How Is Stroke Treated? [last updated 2014 Mar 26; accessed 2014 May 15].
  22. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Life After a Stroke [last updated 2014 Mar 26; accessed 2014 May 15].

Top of Page




Suzy had a stroke due to years of smoking. It changed her life.

Suzy had a stroke due to years of smoking. It changed her life.

"I’m dependent on other people. I need someone to help wash and dress me and help me to the bathroom."

For more real stories about heart disease and stroke:


 

I'm ready to quit! Free resources provided by Smokefree.gov
Contact Us:
  • CDC/Office on Smoking and Health
    4770 Buford Highway
    MS F-79
    Atlanta, Georgia 30341-3717
  • 800-CDC-INFO
    (800-232-4636)
    8a-8p ET
    Monday-Friday
    Closed Holidays
  • tobaccomediacampaign
    @cdc.gov
USA.gov: The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention   1600 Clifton Road Atlanta, GA 30329-4027, USA
800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) TTY: (888) 232-6348 - Contact CDC–INFO
A-Z Index
  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. E
  6. F
  7. G
  8. H
  9. I
  10. J
  11. K
  12. L
  13. M
  14. N
  15. O
  16. P
  17. Q
  18. R
  19. S
  20. T
  21. U
  22. V
  23. W
  24. X
  25. Y
  26. Z
  27. #