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Smoking and respiratory rate

author image Haylee Foster
Haylee Foster has been writing health and fitness articles since 1999. She received prenatal fitness certification from Desert Southwest Fitness in 2001 and has also given presentations on women's and children's health and prenatal fitness. She has a Bachelor of Science in lifestyle management with an emphasis in fitness and nutrition from Weber State University.
Smoking and respiratory rate
Smoking has an immediate effect on breathing. Photo Credit cigarette butts image by Edsweb from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

The negative effects of smoking are well chronicled. Nearly everyone can recite long-term dangers, such as cancer or emphysema, but smoking has an immediate impact as well. The act of smoking triggers a chain of events that impacts every system in the body. The breathing rate is among the first noticeable changes and a red flag for damage occurring deep down.

Effects in the Lungs

From the very first puff on a cigarette, smoke and all its chemicals begin to damage your lungs. Immediately it aggravates the cilia, which keep your lungs clean. Eventually these cilia are bogged down in tar, and airway passages become narrow. The lining of the entire respiratory system becomes thickened and inflamed, further narrowing the airway. Smoke also deteriorates elastin in the lungs, which allows this vital organ to expand and retract during breathing, according to Smoking-cessation.org.

Effects In The Cardiovascular System

Nicotine, the primary addictive chemical in cigarettes, reaches the brain within seconds of the first inhalation. The brain then releases adrenalin throughout the body, triggering blood vessel constriction, according to the Peer Curriculum and National Institute on Drug Abuse websites. This vessel constriction raises blood pressure by 10 to 15 percent and increases your heart rate by 10 to 25 times per minute, reports Smoking-cessation.org. Your heart is forced to pump faster due to the adrenalin and harder due to vessel constriction. The adrenalin push and increased heart rate also impact breathing as your respiratory system tries to keep up.

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Effects In The Blood

Carbon monoxide is one of many chemicals released into the lungs and bloodstream during smoking. This lethal gas passes immediately into the blood and prohibits oxygen from being absorbed into the organs that need it, such as the brain and lungs. Red blood cells also become less effective in removing carbon dioxide causing it to build up in the bloodstream, allowing less and less oxygen to be transported.


An increased breathing rate is an inevitable result of smoking. A buildup of tar combined with inflammation cause thickening of the airways. This smaller passageway for air to move through requires faster and more labored breathing to move the same volume of air. Vessel constriction diminishes blood flow, carbon monoxide prevents oxygen from being absorbed into vital organs, and red blood cells aren't able to remove harmful carbon dioxide. Those combined reactions increase respiratory rate in order for the body to receive the oxygen its organs so desperately need.


Smoking and respiratory rate
Quitting smoking is the best way to improve health. Photo Credit Quit smoking image by Warren Millar from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

The most obvious and successful means of improving breathing rate for a smoker is to quit smoking. Within 20 minutes of the last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure return to normal. Within eight hours, the carbon monoxide levels return to normal and oxygen level increases. Within 72 hours, your lung capacity increases and breathing becomes easier, according to the Tennessee Department of Health website. Every day without a cigarette improves your health significantly, and our most basic yet vital functions, like breathing, will no longer be a struggle.

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