Healthy Brain Campaign: Quit Smoking

At the start of the OHSU Brain Institute’s Healthy Brain Campaign we encouraged you to partner with a Healthcare provider to educate yourself on the seven key health factors and behaviors that will keep your heart and brain healthy and enhance your quality of life. During April, our focus is on the first of the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” keys to better health — which is to quit smoking.

Health Risks

The health risks from smoking cigarettes are too significant to ignore. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s latest report, cigarette smoking has claimed the lives of ten times the number of Americans who died in all of our nation’s wars combined.

Despite Surgeon General warnings and anti-tobacco campaigns, smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, killing nearly one-half million adults per year. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, but let’s just consider its effect on the heart and blood vessels.

Smoking and the Brain

Any amount of smoking can damage the heart and blood vessels by speeding up the build-up of fatty deposits (plaques) in the arteries – called atherosclerosis, and the development of peripheral artery disease. Smokers have lower levels of high-density lipoprotein — or HDL, the “good cholesterol” — and significantly higher levels of triglyceride and low-density lipoprotein — or LDL, the “bad cholesterol.” Unhealthy cholesterol levels can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can cause scarring in the arteries that makes it easier for fatty deposits (triglycerides and LDL cholesterol) to stick and to harden, thereby restricting blood flow to your organs. If these plaques build up in the coronary arteries, this can lead to heart attack and heart failure. If the plaques build up in the arteries leading to your brain and then crack or rupture, this can lead to stroke.

The risks associated with smoking cigarettes are numerous, but so are the benefits associated with quitting smoking. Quitting can have almost immediate benefits on your health. For example:

  • Approximately 20 minutes after quitting, you can expect to see your blood pressure and heart rate normalize following a cigarette-induced spike.
  • After 12 hours, the carbon monoxide from your cigarettes will no longer be present at high levels in your body. Therefore your red blood cells will be able to bind and offload oxygen to your tissues without competition from carbon monoxide.
  • Within months following your decision to quit smoking, you will be able to breathe with more ease and perhaps even engage in heart – and brain – healthy activities such as walking, running or playing with your children.
  • After one year of non-smoking, your risk of coronary heart disease declines by 50 percent.

Find Help to Quit Smoking

  • First, partner with your primary care provider to find or develop a suitable program to help you quit smoking.
  • Check out the American Cancer Society’s Quit For Life® Program, which integrates free medication, web-based learning and confidential phone-based support from expert tobacco cessation coaches. You can get more info at 1-866 QUIT-4-LIFE (784-8454) or enroll online.
  • Also check out the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s education campaign – Tips From Former Smokers (Tips) and its guide to quitting.

Hormozd Bozorgchami, M.D.
Oregon Stroke Center
OHSU Brain Institute

Sarah Brown
Research Assistant
OHSU Brain Institute