Smoking can be harmful to health in unexplainable ways. For instance: it affects how the body handles surgery. This may be the reason why some doctors refuse to operate on chronic smokers to prevent complications. Some doctors may not go that far, but they do advise the patients to reduce their intake of cigarettes and other tobacco products before and after a surgical operation. This proves to be a sensible request because quitting smoking at least a day or two before surgery minimizes the risk of developing complications and also helps the body heal and recover faster from a surgery.

Now the question is, “in what way does smoking affect surgery?”

Studies have shown that smokers are at a higher risk of complications such as a stroke, heart attack, shock and death. When you smoke before surgery, blood flow is decreased and that makes it difficult for surgery wounds to close, less likely to heal properly and more likely to get infected. The immune system is also weakened by smoking, thus raising the chances if an infection after surgery.

Smokers are at risk of experiencing specific complications from every type of surgery compared to non-smokers. For instance:

  • In orthopedic surgery, it may take longer for the bone to heal
  • There are chances of scarring in plastic surgery
  • Implants may be loosened in breast reconstruction surgery
  • There are higher chances of a bone fracture or an infection in a spinal fusion surgery.

Secondhand smoke itself is an issue when it comes to surgery. Children who have parents that smoke do develop complications after a surgery.

There are three main reasons why smoking is bad for surgery

It complicates anesthesia

According to Dr El-Hayek, the anesthesia team can immediately tell if a person is a smoker. Extra work has to be done by anesthesiologists, like Dr. Robert St. Thomas, to maintain the respiration of smokers while under anesthesia, combating against lungs compromised by tobacco smoke. This emphasizes the need for bronchodilator medications such as albuterol.

Extra workload is laid on the heart

Smoking compromises cardiac function. Thus the patient is placed at a greater risk for heart disorders during or after the surgery. A study found that the chances of smokers having a heart attack was 77 percent higher than that of non-smokers.

It takes longer for wounds to heal

The presence of carbon monoxide in a smoker’s body robs the tissues of the oxygen required to heal wounds. A smoker’s blood is laced with toxins which permeate the tissues and distorts the healing process.

Summarily, a smoker:

  • Starves the heart of oxygen
  • Causes the formation of blood clots in his or her veins
  • Finds it difficult to breathe during a surgery
  • Has his risk of infections increased due to the immune system being compromised
  • Impairs the healing of the skin, bones and the wounds
  • Alters the metabolism of certain drugs in the body.

What can be done if you’re a smoker?

The risks of surgical complications associated with smoking can be reduced if you stop smoking. When this is done, you’ll enjoy such benefits as:

  • An enhanced and quicker recovery
  • Improved wound healing
  • Shorter hospital stays
  • Less chance of requiring a second surgery
  • Less chances of requiring intensive care

Speaking of surgery, reducing your intake of cigarettes weeks before the surgical procedure seems not to reduce risk of lung complications.

Smoking after surgery

It is best not to smoke after surgery. Smoking makes it more difficult to recover by placing an extra workload on the heart, negatively impacting on blood pressure, reducing oxygen levels in the blood and body tissues, and causing much damage to the lungs.

Passive smoking and surgery

Children and adults who are exposed to cigarette and tobacco smoke have issues with breathing after undergoing a general anesthesia compared to people who do not smoke. Children affected by tobacco smoke have lower oxygen levels in their blood after surgery.

Non-smokers are advised to avoid secondhand smoke before surgery.

How long should I quit smoking before a plastic surgery?

The effect of smoking on cutaneous blood vessels is quite deleterious. The nicotine present in cigarettes raises the blood levels of vasopressin (otherwise known as anti-diuretic hormone). Vasopressin then leads to peripheral vasoconstriction (constriction of blood vessels) and also decreased flow of blood to localized dermal tissues. This results in prolonged and poorer healing.

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