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The Effects of Nicotine on the Cardiovascular System

by
author image Maryann Gromisch
Maryann Gromisch is a registered nurse and a freelance writer. She has clinical experience in medical, surgical and critical care nursing. Since October 2009 she has written articles related to the digestive system for Empowher.com, a women's health online magazine. She has a bachelor's degree in nursing from Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven.
The Effects of Nicotine on the Cardiovascular System
Nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict. Photo Credit cigarette butts image by Edsweb from <a href="http://www.fotolia.com">Fotolia.com</a>

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nicotine is one of the mostly widely addictive drugs used in the United States. Nicotine, which is a naturally occurring chemical compound found in plants, such as tobacco, was once used in insecticides. Inhaled during smoking, it has an immediate effect on the body. The effects of nicotine on the cardiovascular system are serious. The American Heart Association stresses that cigarette smoking is a leading cause for the development of heart disease.

Increases Blood Pressure

Nicotine causes the blood vessels to constrict. As the blood vessels narrow, blood pressure rises. Undetected and uncontrolled hypertension or high blood pressure leads to heart disease. The estimated half-life of nicotine is approximately two hours. This means that nicotine remains in the bloodstream for that length of time. But since a smoker receives multiple dosing of nicotine, this drug stays in the circulatory system for much longer. The American Heart Association warns that significant levels of nicotine potentially remain in the smoker's blood for six to eight hours after the last cigarette. Hypertension is a risk factor for suffering a heart attack, stroke or premature death. Kidney and heart failure result from uncontrolled hypertension.

Increases Heart Rate

Nicotine causes the release of adrenalin and noradrenalin, which are hormones produced by the adrenal glands. Once nicotine is absorbed by the alveoli in the lungs or the mucous membranes of the nose, it stimulates the release of adrenalin and noradrenalin, which are collectively referred to as catecholamines. The rapid releases of catecholamines caused by nicotine increases heart rate. A heart rate of greater than 100 beats per minute is considered a fast heart rate, or tachycardia.

Narrowing of the Arteries

The American Heart Association lists narrowing of the arteries as another immediate effect of nicotine on the cardiovascular system. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to all parts of the body. Constriction of the arteries deprives major organs and limbs of oxygen. Smokers have a higher risk of developing peripheral artery disease, or PAD, which is characterized by blockage of the arteries that supply the kidneys, stomach, arms, legs and feet.

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