The Connection Between Smoking and High Blood Pressure

Wondering if there's a relationship between smoking and high blood pressure? There is, in a way. Read on to find out more.

Let's get this out of the way right up front: combining smoking and high blood pressure is a terrible idea. How could it be otherwise? Smoking is basically long-term Russian Roulette; we all know that, even if we don't care to admit it. And piling a second stressor on top of hypertension is an accident waiting to happen.

Now, as bad as smoking is, we don't know for sure that it's a contributing cause of high blood pressure, although some studies suggest that heavy smokers are more likely to develop hypertension. We do know, however, that it makes high blood pressure worse.

Let's look at how that works, and what you can do about it.

The Nicotine Effect

All tobacco contains the chemical nicotine, which influences the body in a number of ways: it decreases oxygen supply to the heart, increases clotting, damages the cells lining blood vessels, hardens the arteries, temporarily causes blood vessels to constrict, and increases the heart rate.

Those last two contribute inevitably to higher blood pressure. On average, smoking a single cigarette can increase your BP by up to ten points for up to an hour. The pressure will go down after your body metabolizes the nicotine, but even a brief increase is unhealthy.

The Really Bad News

If you smoke as little as a pack a day, your blood pressure will remain high almost constantly. Add that to other common stressors, and you could end up with a stroke. In fact, tobacco use (combined with inactivity) is one of the lead causes of stroke in hypertensive individuals.

Even worse, you don't have to be a smoker to suffer tobacco's deleterious effects. Snuff and chewing tobacco deliver nicotine as effectively as tobacco smoke. And then there's secondhand smoke; even if you're tobacco-free, you can still get a blood pressure spike from being around smokers.

The Prescription

It follows that one of the simplest ways to lower your blood pressure is to avoid tobacco altogether. Not that it's easy; few addictive habits are harder to break than using tobacco. However, it's not impossible. And do be careful with the gum and the patches; they're nicotine delivery systems, too.

Cold turkey may not be easy, but it'll certainly save your life. Find a way to gently avoid other smokers without endangering your existing relationships, and you'll safeguard your health even further.

The Bottom Line

Nicotine does terrible things to your heart, never mind all the other damage to your body. And while there's no solid proof -- yet -- that it can trigger hypertension, even minor tobacco use can significantly (if temporarily) raise your BP.

So yes, there's a definite connection between smoking and high blood pressure.

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