Stroke is a serious medical condition in which blood flow to one or more portions of the brain is inhibited. Once blood flow is cut off, the brain can’t get the oxygen it needs, and brain cells begin to die rapidly. There are many potential risk factors for stroke, one of which is smoking tobacco products. Smoking significantly raises the risk of blood clots and artery blockages, both of which are linked with stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.
Who Suffers from Strokes?
Strokes are most common in adults over 50 years of age and those with certain medical conditions, although they occur in people of all ages. Those with risk factors for heart disease are often at a higher risk of stroke. This is due, in part, to their common risk factors. These can include high blood pressure, a history of blood clots, obesity, and smoking of tobacco products.
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.
How are Strokes Diagnosed?
Magnetic resonance imagining, or MRI, scanning may be done to diagnose a stroke. This scan will show pictures of the brain and indicate any areas with obstructed blood flow. A CT scan may be used in combination with MRI in some cases. These tests are combined with physical symptoms.
How is a Stroke Treated?
Treatment for a stroke is twofold: doctors must treat the cause of the stroke, and then the patient will need continuing rehabilitative therapy to recover as much brain function as possible. Medication used for strokes include tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, which works by dissolving the blood clot causing the stroke, and it increases blood flow to the area to restore brain oxygen levels.
Once a patient has survived a stroke, ongoing care is often needed. Some patients are paralyzed in one or more areas. Speech may also be impaired. The severity of disability will depend on the type of stroke, the size of the obstructed area, and how quickly medical intervention was received. Those who receive treatment within an hour of the onset of symptoms have a much better chance of making a recovery with proper rehabilitation.
Lifestyle changes may also be needed if they were contributing factors in the stroke. Changing bad habits may help prevent recurrence.
How Does Tobacco Use Cause Stroke?
The use of cigarettes and other tobacco products can cause strokes in a variety of ways. The compounds in cigarette smoke can cause blood clots, which is a primary cause of stroke. Tobacco products can also damage cell walls in the vessels, lead to arterial thickening and narrowing, and raise triglycerides in the blood. All of these may greatly increase stroke risk, either directly or indirectly.
It is estimated that those who smoke are at double the risk of stroke compared to those who don’t (Centers for Disease Control). This risk increases even more when compounded with other unhealthy lifestyle choices or certain medical conditions.
How Can Stroke be Prevented?
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.