Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Top 10 Ways to Avoid a Heart Attack

        Health | Heart

Heart Tip 4: Stop Smoking

Aside from hurting your heart, cigarettes do a number on your lungs and make you smell like a dirty ashtray.
Aside from hurting your heart, cigarettes do a number on your lungs and make you smell like a dirty ashtray.
Reza Estakhrian/Getty Images

File this one under no-brainer as well. Every smoker on the planet knows that it's not good for them. The problem is that it's really difficult to quit. So difficult that nearly two-thirds of adults who want to quit aren't able to [source: Food and Drug Administration]. So hard that almost half of patients that undergo surgery for lung cancer continue to smoke. That's how tough it is. It's also extremely bad for your heart.

When you smoke, the burning of the cigarette creates something called carbon monoxide (CO) -- the same stuff that's created when your car burns gasoline. The CO you inhale takes the place of the oxygen that's carried to and from your heart by your red blood cells. This basically poisons those cells and keeps them from carrying oxygen to the heart and from the heart to the rest of the body. This happens because CO is a master of disguise -- it's able to pass itself off as oxygen. So when you smoke, you're basically starving your heart of oxygen, the one thing it needs to function properly. If you smoke a pack of smokes a day, the CO level in your bloodstream will stay between 4 and 8 percent [source: The New York Times]. A normal amount of CO in your blood is extremely low -- zero to eight parts per million.

Whether or not you're at risk for a heart attack, you should probably try to quit smoking. It's tough, but people do it every day all over the world, so you can too. Try cutting down first. A review of smoking studies for people that had no desire to quit showed that cutting down often led to complete cessation [source: Science Daily]. It's also been proven that it's much easier to quit if you partner up with a fellow smoker who's kicking the habit. Nicotine replacement therapy can be effective for some, and there are other new drugs on the market like Chantix that are effective for some smokers.

More to Explore