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Heart disease and stroke are cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) diseases caused by smoking. Heart disease and stroke are the first and third leading causes of death in the United States. Most cases of these diseases are caused by atherosclerosis, a hardening and narrowing of the arteries. Smoking speeds up this process, even in young smokers. Cigarette smoke damages the cells lining the blood vessels and heart, causing swelling that prevents the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. Smoking also increases a person’s risk of dangerous blood clots, which can also cause a heart attack or stroke.
Fortunately, risks for heart disease and stroke decrease steadily after a person quits. One year after a person quits, their risk for a heart attack drops sharply. Two to five years after quitting, their risk for stroke falls to about the same as a nonsmoker’s.