The adverse health effects of smoking for women and men are well known. Smoking increases ones risk for cancer, heart attacks, strokes, early death, cataracts, and wrinkles. If you smoke, these facts are likely not new to you, and you may have even had conversations with your physician and/or family members about the cons of smoking.
So what impact does smoking have on you if you are undergoing surgery? Unlike the list of long-term health risks above, smoking has an immediate adverse impact on your body both in the operating room and in recovery.
Smoking increases carbon monoxide levels, and lowers oxygen levels in your blood. When you smoke a cigarette, the combustion of the tobacco creates carbon monoxide (CO) which combines with hemoglobin when it enters the blood stream through your lungs. (Carbon monoxide combines with the hemoglobin in red blood cells 230 times faster than oxygen!) As red blood cells combine with CO, less oxygen combines with red blood cells, and that means less oxygen is available to cells for critical healing processes at the cellular level.
Lower blood oxygen puts a smoker at a disadvantage when it comes to general anesthesia. A smoker will typically have a difficult time waking up with lower blood oxygen, and will begin coughing. Coughing usually increases discomfort, and can increase the risk of bleeding after surgery.
Smoking tobacco also releases nicotine into your system. Nicotine causes a cascade of chemical reactions in your body. One effect is an increase in blood pressure because nicotine causes the walls of blood vessels to constrict. When this occurs, less blood gets through to where it is really needed–the skin! The skin is the largest organ in our body, and in some ways is more adversely affected by smoking than even the lungs. The decrease in blood oxygen and reduced blood flow to the skin inhibits healing after surgery.
In short, smoking and surgery are not a good combination. Stopping even 2 weeks prior to your procedure, and staying away from cigarettes for 2 weeks after your surgery, can really help you through the procedure, and help you heal. And if you can quit for a month…hey, maybe you can quit for good!