Smoking puts your brain at major risk by dramatically increasing the chances of having a stroke, and stroke is a major concern because it’s the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Smoking is one of the greatest risk factors for having a stroke; however, your risks multiply if you also have other risk factors such as being overweight, having high blood pressure and cholesterol, and getting too little exercise. Smokers are at risk of having a stroke nearly 10 years younger compared to the non-smoking general population. Fortunately, the National Stroke Association says that as many as 80 percent of strokes can be prevented by addressing your lifestyle risks.
What Smoking Does to Your Circulation
Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, which is one of the major ways that it contributes to having a stroke. When there’s less oxygen in your blood, your heart has to work harder to pump the blood through your body compared to a non-smoker.
Smoking also makes blood clots more likely to form and increases the amount of plaque buildup in your arteries. The combination of the blood clots and increased plaque are the right conditions for a stroke to occur.
The arteries leading to your brain are especially vulnerable to damage by smoking. As these arteries shrink and tighten, it may be impossible for adequate blood flow to get to your brain and creates the right conditions for an aneurysm to occur. Smoking damages smaller blood vessels, making them more likely to rupture.
Factors that Make Stroke More Likely
Not everyone has the same risk of having a stroke – not even all smokers. Some people are at increased risk of stroke because of other health and lifestyle factors.
People with sleep disorders are at much greater risk of having a stroke. Men with obstructive sleep apnea have nearly double the stroke risk of the general population, and women with sleep apnea also face increased risks, though not to the same degree. The more severe the obstructive sleep apnea, the greater the stroke risk.
Women who use birth control pills are also at a significantly increased risk for stroke. Medical and public health officials warn that women over age 35 should not smoke and take birth control pills, because these combined behaviors present a potentially deadly risk. There is no safe amount of smoking for women on birth control pills.
Men who smoke more than a pack of cigarettes a day are also at a greatly increased risk of stroke.
Effects of Stroke
Stroke can be fatal and can kill you instantly. However, even if you’re lucky enough to survive having a stroke – which is the case nearly 85 percent of the time – you can be left with permanent damage after having a stroke.
People who have had strokes often need to go back to learning the basics. After having a stroke, it is not unusual for people to be able to forget important details about their personal history, to become unable to recognize family members and friends, and even to need to learn how to walk and talk again.
Because the brain controls all of your body’s functions, a stroke can impact any one of them. Many people struggle with coordination after a stroke.
Rehabilitation is possible, but is a lengthy process and the success rate depends largely upon how motivated you are and how severe the stroke was. Many people are unable to return to their previous careers after a stroke, which can cause depression.
Stroke is extremely preventable in the vast majority of cases. Here are some of the things you can do to reduce your risk:
- Quit smoking. If you can’t quit, at least try to cut down. Recent studies have also shown that menthol cigarettes are linked to a higher risk of stroke, compared to non-menthol cigarettes.
- Do not smoke if you are a woman taking birth control pills. Find a non-hormonal alternative for contraception.
- Get some exercise every day. You don’t have to spend your whole life in the gym, but even a 30 minute walk most days of the week can be enough to keep your blood pressure low enough to reduce your stroke risk.
- Follow a healthy diet. A poor diet is linked to high cholesterol, which can further increase your risk of having a stroke.
- Manage your stress, which will help to keep blood pressure levels low.
One thing that is strongly in your favor is that your risk of stroke goes down dramatically very quickly after you quit smoking. Although the risk of cancer remains increased for many years after you quit smoking, the risk of stroke goes down to nearly of a non-smoker in just 18 months on average. Your body starts the healing and repair process soon after you quit.