Can secondhand smoke increase your risk of having a heart attack?

Answer From Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D.

Yes. Secondhand smoke exposure is a risk factor for having a heart attack. Secondhand smoke includes the smoke from a burning cigarette or pipe and the smoke a tobacco user breathes out (exhales).

Any amount of secondhand smoke is bad for the heart and blood vessels. Breathing secondhand smoke can cause the cells in the blood that are responsible for clotting (platelets) to become very sticky. This makes blood more likely to clot. If a clot blocks blood flow, a heart attack or stroke can occur.

Secondhand smoke makes the arteries not able to widen. This condition is called endothelial dysfunction. It's associated with many forms of cardiovascular disease.

Chemicals in secondhand smoke also irritate the lining of the arteries, causing them to swell (inflammation) and become stiff. Such inflammation can narrow the arteries, increasing the risk of heart-related chest pain (angina) and heart attacks.

Many studies have found that heart attack rates go down in areas after smoke-free laws are passed.

To avoid secondhand smoke, try these options:

  • Choose smoke-free places such as restaurants or shopping centers.
  • Avoid places where people are smoking, even open spaces.
  • Ask smokers in your home or whom you're around regularly to smoke outside.
  • Encourage smokers you're often around to quit smoking.

It's especially important to avoid secondhand smoke if you have heart disease or a history of a heart attack.

If you smoke, the best way to reduce your heart attack risk is to quit. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider about tips to stop smoking.


Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D.

April 14, 2022 See more Expert Answers

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