Smoking takes a toll on every part of the body
For many people, each January 1st is a new chance to finally keep their resolution to quit smoking. These smokers may have tried for years to kick the habit. They know it is expensive, they know it stinks, and they know it’s negatively impacting their health. For decades, they’ve heard physicians warning that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease. Smokers should, in fact, consider the damage to their entire body because in reality, the heart and lungs are only the tip of the iceberg.
“Smoking causes damage to all major systems and all organs of the body,” explains Eugene Tanquilut, D.O., vascular/endovascular surgeon of Vascular Specialists, LLC, in Olympia Fields and New Lenox.
The system that takes the biggest – and quickest – hit is the vascular system – particularly the arteries that carry blood throughout the body. The damage isn’t confined just to the vessels supplying blood to the heart and lungs; it’s occurring, to one degree or another, to every vessel.
With each inhalation, everything from the smallest blood vessels in the ears to the skin’s veins and arteries begins to degenerate, showing as hearing loss, wrinkles, early aging, hair loss and tooth loss. Smoking damages nerves in toes and feet while weakening bones with toxins and killing osteoblasts, the cells that make and repair bones. Smoking thins the brain’s cortex, which speeds mental decline as smokers age.
Smoking is also associated with diabetes, decreased immune function, preterm delivery, reduced fertility, sexual dysfunction, weaker bones, age-related eye diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis. The list continues to go on and on.
“Tobacco use is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States,” says Sanjeev Pradhan, M.D., vascular surgeon. “Nearly one in five deaths, or an estimated 440,000 deaths per year, are related to tobacco use and smoking.”
How Smoking Affects the Arteries
Though there are more than 4,000 chemicals emitted by a lit cigarette; a leading culprit is nicotine. Besides being addictive, nicotine is a stimulant that increases the heart rate by about 20 beats per minute with every cigarette; it also raises blood pressure. Nicotine also acts as a vasoconstrictor, making it harder for the heart to pump blood through the constricted or narrowed arteries. Finally, nicotine also causes the body to release its stores of fat and cholesterol into the blood.
“In a healthy blood vessel, the lining of the arteries (endothelium) constricts and dilates with blood flow,” Dr. Tanquilut said. “Smoking damages the endothelium, making arteries prone to spasms and plaque deposits that damage their ability to dilate properly.”
This condition, known as atherosclerosis, is a gradual process. When the arteries narrow, blood clots are likely to form.
“Smoking accelerates the hardening and narrowing process in your arteries,” Dr. Pradhan added. “It starts quickly if you begin smoking, and blood clots are two to four times more likely.”
Smoking also lowers levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) and raises levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol). It decreases the movement of cholesterol through the body, and contributes to its accumulation in the arteries, putting smokers at a higher risk for heart attack, stroke, and limb loss.
Cigarette smoking also dramatically increases the risk for blood clots.
“If the blood clots in an artery, and it can no longer get the through, the tissue that’s supposed to be supplied with blood has lost its source of oxygen and nutrients and dies in minutes,” Dr. Tanquilut said.
Cigarette smoking can also have devastating affects on the:
Brain. Smoking narrows the arteries in the brain and the carotid arteries in the neck, increasing the risk of stroke. When the vessels become blocked, stroke, paralysis and even death – if the section of the brain affected controlled a life-sustaining function – can results.
Peripheral Arteries. Smokers are also at increased risk for peripheral arterial disease, clogged arteries in the legs that cause insufficient blood flow to get to the leg muscles. This causes pain, especially when walking and, left untreated, this insufficient blood flow can lead to limb amputation.
Aorta. Many studies have linked cigarette smoking with an increased risk for developing abdominal aortic aneurysms, an enlarged area in the lower part of the aorta, the major blood vessel that supplies blood to the body. As blood flows through the aorta, the weak area bulges like a balloon and can burst if the balloon gets too big.
Commit to Quit In 2016
“Quitting is the single-most important thing any smoker can do to reduce their risk of developing potentially life-threatening health conditions,” Dr. Tanquilut explained. “In just two to five years, a smoker who has quit will have the same stroke risk as a non-smoker.”
Amazingly, when a smoker quits January 1, by January 3 the body experiences immediate health benefits, just 48 hours later. Blood pressure decreases; the pulse rate drops; carbon monoxide levels in the blood return to normal; oxygen levels increase to normal; the chance of a heart attack decreases; nerve endings start regenerating, and the ability to taste and smell improves.
After one year, the risk of a heart attack drops sharply. Ten years after quitting, the risk of lung cancer is cut in half.
“The moment you quit, the body starts repairing itself,” Dr. Pradhan added. “Make and keep that resolution this year. It’s never too late to stop.”
If you or someone you know has vascular disease, Drs. Tanquilut and Pradhan offer all treatment options available, including medical management, minimally invasive endovascular procedures, such as balloon angioplasty, atherectomy and stent procedures, and open surgical repair including bypass.
For more information, call 815-824-4406 or visit vascspecialists.org