Quitting Smoking: The Best Way To Protect Your Cardiovascular Health
Prevention and Treatment Tobacco use (primarily in the form of cigarettes, cigars and pipe smoking) causes heart attacks and strokes as well as lung diseases and many forms of cancer.
Quitting smoking is the best way to prevent cardiovascular disease or to slow its progression if you have already been diagnosed. If you are like most smokers, who would like to quit but haven’t been able to despite several concerted attempts to do so, tobacco addiction is likely the culprit.
"If you want to quit smoking, research shows that the best way to quit is with a combination of smoking cessation medication and counselling from a healthcare professional."
Smoking’s effect on the brain
Cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are addictive because of the nicotine contained in tobacco smoke. When inhaled, nicotine travels quickly to the brain where it causes the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine release causes a pleasurable sensation that is powerfully rewarding. Nicotine actually changes smokers’ brains, causing smokers to have strong cravings when they are unable to smoke. Smoking also becomes tightly embedded into daily routines and social interactions, both of which become potent triggers to light up. Many smokers experience symptoms of tobacco withdrawal when they try to quit, including cravings to smoke, restlessness, irritability, depressed moods, sleep disturbances and changes in appetite. Withdrawal symptoms can cause people to relapse back to smoking when they try to quit.
What are the options
If you want to quit smoking, research shows that the best way to quit is with a combination of smoking cessation medication and counselling from a healthcare professional.
Medications work by reducing the severity of tobacco withdrawal symptoms. There are three approved forms of smoking cessation medication available in Canada. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is available over the counter at your pharmacy, while varenicline (Champix) and bupropion (Zyban) are available by prescription. Compared to continued smoking, all forms of smoking cessation are safe, even for smokers with existing cardiovascular diseases.
Counselling works by teaching smokers how to make a plan to cut down and quit, use medications effectively, identify triggers to smoke, develop coping skills to help manage situations and cravings, and find alternatives to smoking. Counselling is available one-on-one, in groups, over the telephone or on the Internet.
Some smokers can’t contemplate a life without smoking and resist making plans to quit. If smokers are unable to set a specific quit date, they can approach quitting in a more gradual fashion by using smoking cessation medication and behaviour modification techniques to gradually cut down their smoking. They can make more definite plans to quit for good once they have gained confidence in their ability to manage their life without smoking.