How Smoking Raises Risk of Stroke

Medically Reviewed

Smoking is an important contributor to both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes]. In general, cigarette smokers have two to three times the risk of stroke than nonsmokers, and the more cigarettes smoked, the greater the risk.

No amount of cigarette smoking is safe. And even if you don’t smoke, repeated exposure to secondhand smoke can raise stroke ris almost as much as smoking itself.

Smoking accelerates atherosclerosis (buildup of plaques in the arteries), promotes clots, and causes damage to the arteries. Also, nicotine briefly raises blood pressure and causes an accumulation of carbon monoxide in the blood that reduces the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity and the amount of oxygen available to the brain.

The good news: The increased risk of stroke associated with smoking decreases rapidly after quitting and returns to normal within five years.

If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor. He or she can recommend a number of over-the-counter and prescription products, including nicotine replacement therapy, bupropion (Zyban,) and varenicline (Chantix).

A number of online resources are available as well. Try out Freedom From Smoking, sponsored by the American Lung Association, or the National Institutes of Health. You can also try counseling, either one-on-one or with a group.

Read more about stroke prevention and stroke recovery.