Are you a smoker? Have you recently had surgery or an injury that just wasn’t healing in a normal time frame? Smoking might be the culprit. Just about everyone on earth knows the affects of cigarette smoke and how it can cause certain ailments and diseases. An estimated 15.1 % of U.S. adults aged 18 years or older smoke cigarettes. More than 16 million Americans live with a smoking related disease (2). But do people know the affect cigarette smoke can have on the healing process in the body? What ways does it delay healing time and why it can take so much longer than most.
Deprives the body of Oxygen:
The air is filled with Oxygen and we breath it in all day long. Oxygen is needed for our body to function as well as heal tissue that is wounded. On a more scientific level, cigarette smoke causes many changes to the way our bodies handle oxygen. Hemoglobin is a molecule that transports oxygen throughout the body. Cigarette smoke affects it’s ability to carry the amount it normally needs to carry at one time. The blood vessels in the body also become more narrow not allowing the oxygen and hemoglobin to get to your healing tissue.(1)
Cigarette smoke thickens your blood as well. This makes it more difficult for the blood to run smoother throughout our bodies. Just think of it this way, you have car carrier ( Hemoglobin) carrying 8 cars (oxygen) a piece on a 4 lane highway (artery/veins) at an average speed of 65 MPH. Now it starts to snow (chemicals in cigarettes) and those car carriers can’t go through the storm so you have to get a tow truck that carries 2 cars a piece now. Your speed has now decreased to 45 MPH. Less cars will get to the dealership (healing tissue) and it will take twice as long to get there. With a decreased amount of oxygen, the tissues have a difficult time healing in the allotted time.
Weakens the Immune system:
In addition, cigarette smoke has been shown to make it more difficult for the body to fight off infection after surgery. The chemicals in cigarettes prevent neutrophils, infection fighting cells, from working properly. Neutrophils are our guards that create a safe environment by getting rid of things that don’t belong in our body, such as bacteria. This in turn causes a greater risk to develop infection.(2)
There is some good news from all of this though. Research has shown that quitting smoking before surgery reduces your risk of complications. It is very difficult to stop smoking, but even a 4-6 week period shows a dramatic decrease in risk factors. Now you might say what if I had a fracture and needed surgery immediately? I don’t have time to quit. Quitting for 4-8 weeks while your fracture is healing has also shown great benefits in the healing process.
Quitting smoking or any nicotine product is a very difficult process. I know from experience. I chewed snuff for 14 years. I tried to quit on multiple occasions and nothing seemed to work, but then my son was born! I made a promise to myself that I would quit for him and for my family. 9 years later I don’t even miss it! In fact it kind of makes me sick to even smell it. Sometimes the big picture just makes sense.