Does Smoking Raise Blood Pressure?

Smoking raises your blood pressure in the short term and over a long period of time, putting both young and old smokers at high risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure), compared to those who do not smoke.

A longitudinal study of nearly 29,000 people, ages 36 to 80 found that smoking not only raises blood pressure over time, but also puts you at higher risk of developing atherosclerosis, a chronic, progressive disease in which plaques build up in the walls of arteries. The study cites smoking as an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Smoking activates your sympathetic nervous system, which releases chemicals that swiftly increase blood pressure. Long-term smoking contributes to the development of chronic hypertension by accelerating arterial aging, or how quickly the arteries become damaged.

woman getting blood pressure taken


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What Is Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)?

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a condition in which the pressure on the walls of your arteries is higher than normal. Hypertension refers to how hard blood is pushing on the walls of the artery.

Too much pressure on the walls of our blood vessels, especially over a long period of time, can cause them to rupture or put you at higher risk for stroke, heart disease, heart attack, and kidney failure. Therefore keeping a normal blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg for adults is recommended.

The top number, systolic blood pressure, is a measure of the force on your artery walls when your heart squeezes out blood and the bottom number, diastolic blood pressure, measures the force on the wall of your arteries at rest or in between beats.  

Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressures

Verywell / JR Bee

Effects of Smoking on Your Cardiovascular System 

Cigarette smoking is a major preventable cause of premature cardiovascular disease, with the risk particularly high in people with hypertension. Cigarette smoking increases the likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke because it adds to the damage done to the blood vessels by high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.

Chronic smoking also stiffens the arteries making them less flexible as blood passes through them. As a result the body has to work harder to move blood through the body in cigarette smokers.

Smoking is also particularly dangerous in those with high blood pressure because cigarette smoke damages the kidneys and increases the likelihood of experiencing severe blood pressure spikes called malignant hypertension or a hypertensive emergency.

Malignant hypertension occurs when your blood pressure is at or over 180/120 mmHg. At this level, organ damage can occur, therefore malignant hypertension is an emergency and should be treated immediately by a healthcare professional. 

Nicotine, the addictive chemical found in combustible cigarettes and other tobacco products, has been found to acutely increase blood pressure through its effects on the sympathetic nervous system. Therefore all people, especially those who already have hypertension, should quit smoking as soon as possible.

Many people, including cigarette smokers, are unaware that they have high blood pressure because the symptoms are nonspecific and therefore can be attributed to many other medical conditions.

High Blood Pressure Symptoms

High blood pressure symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Nose bleeds
  • Confusion
  • Blurry vision or other vision problems
  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat 
  • Pounding sensation in your chest
  • Blood in urine

Dangers of High Blood Pressure

As previously mentioned, high blood pressure puts you at higher risk of developing:

  • Malignant hypertension
  • Essential hypertension
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke

Other complications include:

  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Dementia or Alzheimer's disease
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Peripheral artery disease

If you experience any symptoms of high blood pressure, call 911 or visit the nearest emergency hospital right away to help avoid these life-altering and sometimes fatal complications. 

Some research has also found that smoking may blunt the effects of blood pressure medication such as amlodipine thereby reducing the drug's ability to mitigate high blood pressure and stiffening of the arteries.

Does Quitting Smoking Lower Blood Pressure?

Quitting smoking along with making small changes to your habits like eating a low sodium diet, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting alcohol intake can lower your blood pressure by 10 to 20 mmHG or more.

Quitting earlier is best to avoid irreversible damage to our blood vessels but even if you are a longtime smoker it is never too late to quit. Smoking also increases your risk of other conditions like lung cancer, COPD, and emphysema so the health benefits of quitting are enormous.

In the United States, the estimated number of tobacco smokers has dropped, as a result of tobacco-control efforts, from 45.1 million smokers in 2005 to 36.5 million smokers in 2017. That number is expected to continue to drop although the rise in use of smokeless tobacco has caused some opposition.

Prevention

The most effective way to prevent hypertension is to eliminate unhealthy habits like smoking. Not only does smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke raise your blood pressure, but it also puts you at a higher risk for heart attack and stroke. The only way to be sure that you are not being negatively impacted by smoking is to avoid it altogether.

Although much progress has been made, far too many young people use tobacco. Even more troubling, the rates of decline for smokeless tobacco have stalled or risen as of late. This is of particular concern because nicotine addiction can prolong tobacco use and lead to severe health complications.

As a result, the medical and public health communities cannot emphasize enough the importance of discouraging all forms of tobacco use in young people. 

A Word From Verywell

Oftentimes there are no obvious symptoms of hypertension hence why it is often called a silent killer, underscoring the importance of knowing your risk factors for developing hypertension and adopting a healthy positive routine that includes healthy eating and exercise.

Taking high blood pressure seriously and following your doctor’s treatment recommendations can lower your risk of serious complications and make a big difference in your overall health. 

Hypertension can impact anyone and it is not always the result of unhealthy habits like cigarette smoking. If you experience high blood pressure symptoms, contact a healthcare professional immediately. While there is no cure for hypertension, most causes can be managed effectively through lifestyle changes and medication, when needed. 

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