If you need a reason to quit smoking...

If you've read Track Your Plaque, you already know my feelings about smoking and coronary plaque. Smoke, and you will lose the battle for control over coronary plaque growth--it will grow and grow until catastrophe strikes.

Nonetheless, this is not sufficiently motivating for some people.

If you need more motivation to quit smoking, just take a look at your heart scan sometime, accompanied by either one of the doctors or technicians at the scan center you choose. After you've had an opportunity to look at your coronary arteries, take a look at the lungs. The heart is in the middle and the lungs are the two large black areas on either side of the heart. (They're not really black; that's just the way the images are color-coded.)

Smokers will see large cavities in their lungs--literally, half-inch to one-inch wide holes that contain only air. Many of them. These represent remnants of lung tissue, digested away and now useless from the damage incurred through smoking.

Non-smokers should see uniform lung tissue without such cavities.

What surprised me early on in my heart scan experience was how little smoking exposure was required to generate these cavities. A 40-year old, for instance, who smoked a half-pack per day for 10 years would have them. Heavier smokers, of course, showed far more extensive cavities.

Officially, these cavities are called "emphysematous blebs", meaning the scars of the lung disease, emphysema.

When I've pointed out these cavities or emphysematous blebs to patients, 9 out of 10 times they immediately become non-smokers. Commonly, they'd exclaim, "I had no idea I was really damaging my lungs!" Most admitted that they were awaiting some bona fide evidence that they were truly doing some harm to their bodies. Well, that's it.

Give it a try if you're struggling.