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How Can Smoking Lead to Peripheral Artery Disease?

how can smoking lead to peripheral artery disease

PAD Disease and Smoking

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a progressive condition that affects your arteries. Smokers are at increased risk of developing this condition as smoking impacts artery function. It is important to understand how PAD and smoking relate to each other to reduce your risk of developing the disease and maintain your vascular health.

PAD develops when plaque builds up and causes the arteries to narrow and restrict blood flow. Because smoking also affects your arteries, it is one of the main risk factors for developing peripheral artery disease. Even secondhand smoke can have a negative effect on the arteries if you are exposed on a regular basis. 

Fortunately, a vascular doctor can help you quit smoking to reduce your risk and discuss minimally invasive treatment options if you have already been diagnosed with PAD.



Harmful Effects of Smoking on Arteries

Smoking has a harmful effect on the arteries because of the chemicals in the cigarettes. Nicotine, for example, causes the blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow. Studies have found that thickening of the arteries occurred more frequently in people who smoked with over 90 percent of those who smoked more than two packs per day experiencing advanced thickening. Nearly half of those who smoked less than a pack a day also suffered from thickened arteries.

Other chemicals in cigarettes can cause blood clots to form, which also limits or stops blood flow through certain arteries. Carbon dioxide and other substances can cause the platelets in the blood to clump together and develop into a clot, completely blocking the artery from blood flow. These chemicals make your blood coagulate, meaning it gets thicker and doesn’t flow as easily.

The chemicals in cigarette smoke change the chemistry in your blood, effectively allowing cholesterol, fat, and other material to turn into plaque buildup. This leads to atherosclerosis, which is the primary cause of PAD. Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream, a necessary component to help your muscles recover from activity. Lack of oxygen and other nutrients lead to pain in the legs or claudication, one of the main symptoms of peripheral artery disease.

Is Peripheral Artery Disease Caused by Smoking?

PAD is primarily caused by atherosclerosis, which is defined as the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances along the arterial walls. Smoking isn’t a direct cause of PAD, but it increases your risk of developing the disease. Smoking can also make the condition worse once it has been diagnosed. Continuing to smoke with PAD can enable the progression of the disease as the arterial walls become even more narrowed.

What are the Benefits of Quitting Smoking?

If you are a smoker and either diagnosed with PAD or concerned about your risk for developing the disease, there is good news. Since smoking and PAD are linked, as soon as you quit smoking, the body begins to recover. The results can be dramatic even in the first few days. For example, within 24 hours, your heart rate decreases, effectively reducing your risk of developing heart disease.

Within three months of cessation, circulation begins to improve because the walls of the arteries become thinner and healthier again. During this time, the lungs start to heal and you may notice an improvement in physical endurance. As you begin to feel better and more active, you may also notice less pain in your legs.

Within five years of smoking cessation, your arteries and veins begin to widen, reducing the risk of clotting. Because impact to your arteries is reversed, quitting smoking can minimize your risk of developing PAD. 

The benefits continue for former smokers who have been clean for 20 years. At this point, the risk of death from a smoking-related cause is no higher than for someone who never smoked. 

While quitting smoking can help mitigate your risk for developing PAD, it can’t cure the condition if you have already developed it. 

PAD Treatments

If you’re a smoker, have a history of smoking, or have already been diagnosed with PAD, your doctor may recommend treatment to improve blood flow and prevent progression of the disease. At USA Vascular Centers our main PAD treatment goals are to reduce symptoms and improve mobility. We offer three types of non-surgical treatment for PAD.

  • Angioplasty: An interventional radiologist inserts a tiny catheter into the affected artery and inflates a balloon to compress the plaque against the walls, increasing blood flow.
  • Stent placement angioplasty: This procedure requires a wire mesh to be inserted into the artery to keep the walls open.
  • Atherectomy: A tiny catheter with a blade tip on the end is inserted into the artery to scrape away the plaque.

A vascular specialist will discuss your treatment options and recommend the best one for your diagnosis.

Schedule a Consultation with a Vascular Specialist

If you are a smoker and have been diagnosed with PAD, USA Vascular Centers can help. We provide non-surgical treatments that can help improve your quality of life and allow you to lead an active lifestyle again. You can call us to speak with a member of our knowledgeable team at 888.723.2193 or schedule an appointment online to visit one of our centers.


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