Blood pressure is a measurement of the force of blood against the walls of the arteries. The lower this force, the less risk a person has of cardiovascular complications. When the amount of force in the arteries increases, blood pressure increases. Increased blood pressure is a risk factor for coronary artery disease, kidney disease, stroke, diabetes and other serious medical conditions.
Cigarettes contain ingredients that increase the force of the blood on the artery walls. One of the major ingredients that cause increased blood pressure is nicotine. The NIDA website, managed by Dr. Nora D. Volkow, indicates that one cigarette contains approximately 10 mg of nicotine. Tobacco also contains carbon monoxide, tar and acetaldehyde. Carbon monoxide affects the cardiovascular system, making this ingredient another potential cause of increased blood pressure levels.
Why Does Smoking Cause a Rise in Blood Pressure Levels?
Smoking damages the walls of the arteries and contributes to the formation of plaque on the artery walls. As the plaque builds up, the heart has to work harder to pump blood to the tissues and organs of the body. This increased workload also increases the force of the blood on the artery walls. Blood pressure increases immediately after tobacco use, but consistent use of cigarettes and other risky behaviors increase the risk for continued high blood pressure.
Carbon monoxide actually dilates the blood vessels, which usually makes it easier for the blood to pass through the circulatory system. Unfortunately, carbon monoxide has serious effects on the lungs and other body organs. The inclusion of carbon monoxide in tobacco may also contribute to increased blood pressure after smoking.
Reducing the Risk
The best way to reduce the risk of high blood pressure associated with smoking is to quit smoking altogether. When you stop smoking, you reduce your risk of heart disease, increase your life expectancy, reduce the risk of high blood pressure, experience improved sense of taste and feel better physically. Quitting also contributes to a better appearance in the form of better skin and fewer new stains on the teeth.
Discuss quitting with your doctor to determine how you can safely quit smoking cigarettes. Not everyone can quit the same way. Some people have good results with electronic cigarettes, while other people need smoking cessation counseling or prescription medications. Others quit “cold turkey” by cutting out smoking completely. Work with your doctor to pick a plan that works with your needs, and then stick to it. While you try to quit, avoid mingling with groups of people who are smoking. Increase your water intake and avoid caffeinated beverages. If your primary reason for quitting is the desire for reduced blood pressure, use a home blood pressure monitor to take blood pressure measurements regularly. Record them and share them with your doctor. Keeping a record will help you determine if quitting has a positive effect on your blood pressure.
NIDA for Teens: Tobacco Addiction
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: Does Smoking Tobacco Cause High Blood Pressure?
"Hypertension"; Role of Carbon Monoxide in Blood Pressure Regulation; David E. Stec, et al.; 2008.