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NEWS Improving and Protecting the Health, Well-Being
and Self-Reliance of All Montanans.

November 21, 2013


Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936
Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391

Smoking increases stroke risk

Up to 4 times more likely

By Dr. Steven Helgerson
DPHHS State Medical Officer

There are many reasons not to smoke, or quit if you do. One of the biggest reasons is that it decreases the risk of stroke. Smoking cigarettes significantly increases the likelihood of stroke.

Stroke is a life-changing health event, a leading cause of death and a primary cause of serious, long-term disability in adults. Two of three stroke survivors will have some disability, and many will require care by others for the rest of their lives.

The two kinds of stroke are defined by the way blood flow to an area of the brain is disrupted. Ischmeic stroke is caused by a blood clot that plugs a blood vessel. Smoking roughly doubles the chances of ischemic stroke. Smoking quadruples the chances of hemorrhagic stroke, caused by rupture or leaking in a blood vessel. Women who smoke have an even greater risk of hemorrhagic stroke than do men who smoke.

The chemicals and poisons in cigarette smoke have many harmful effects on blood and blood vessels. Smoking contributes to build-up of fatty substances in the carotid artery, the main artery in the neck that delivers blood to the brain. Commercial tobacco smoke also:

  • Raises blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke.
  • Damages the lining of blood vessels and weakens artery walls.
  • Makes the blood thicker and more likely to clot.
  • Constricts blood vessels throughout the body, slowing blood flow.
  • Reduces the level of good cholesterol (high density lipoprotein).
  • Speeds up hardening of the arteries.

The more a person smokes, the greater their risk of stroke. Secondhand smoke increases the risk of stroke for nonsmokers, too. Importantly, exposure to cigarette smoke multiplies the dangers from other risk factors, which include family history, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Women who smoke and use oral contraceptives greatly increase their risk of stroke.

The health benefits of quitting smoking begin immediately. The Montana Tobacco Quit Line provides coaching and other support to help Montana residents stop using commercial tobacco. Help is free at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-800-784-8669.

Remember, stroke is an emergency. Immediate treatment is critical. Call 9-1-1 immediately. Learn more at www.strokeassociation.org or call 1-888-4-STROKE.

Dr. Steven Helgerson is the State Medical Director for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Page last updated 11/21/2013