How Smoking Damages Your Arterial Health
We have all seen the commercials and heard warnings from our doctors that smoking is dangerous and should be avoided to try and prevent lung cancer. While lung cancer is often the most promoted disease linked to smoking, it is not the only disease smoking can cause. Smoking increases your risk of heart disease, vascular disease, stroke, chronic lung conditions, and cancer of the bladder, throat, kidneys, cervix, or pancreas. With all of the risks involved in smoking it seems like a no-brainer to quit, yet many people in the United States continue to smoke.
Is vascular disease really something to worry about?
In the scheme of things you may be wondering why vascular disease is included in the same list as cancer or stroke as a deadly side effect of smoking. There seems to be no comparison between cancer and vascular disease when it comes to which one to worry about more. There will be no argument that cancer is not deadly and you should not try to prevent it, but vascular diseases like peripheral artery disease (PAD) caused by smoking can be just as life-threatening if left untreated.
PAD is the narrowing of your peripheral arteries, also known as the arteries that don’t go to your heart, which supply fresh blood and oxygen to your exterior body parts, like your legs or arms. PAD is most common in your legs, but can affect other areas as well. This can be caused by atherosclerosis, a condition where your arteries are blocked by the buildup of plaque (deposits of fats, cholesterol, or other substances). When your arteries are restricted by plaque buildup they are not able to supply enough blood to your legs and the plaque becomes brittle and inflamed which can cause blood clots. If left untreated the blood supply to your legs can be completely cut off leading to the development of gangrene (tissue that is infected or dead) and eventually amputation.
What does smoking have to do with PAD?
Cigarettes contain carbon monoxide that gets into your bloodstream through the inhalation of smoke. Side effects of carbon monoxide are the limitation of oxygen to your red blood cells and the increased amount of cholesterol buildup in your veins. As you read above, lack of healthy blood supply and too much cholesterol buildup in your veins is a likely equation to develop PAD. Additionally, the most popular ingredient of cigarettes, nicotine, has been linked to increased blood pressure and hardening your arteries, which can also lead to PAD. Unhealthy arteries put your brain and heart at risk because arteries control the amount of blood and oxygen distributed throughout your body.
To avoid the risks linked with PAD, like a heart attack, stroke, or amputation, it is extremely important to find a doctor that specializes in the complete treatment of PAD.
How smoking affects your loved ones
A common argument that smokers may have to avoid quitting is that their lethal habit only affects their body and so it is not anybody else’s business. However, smoking can cause heart disease and lung cancer in those exposed to smoking through secondhand smoke, especially people with high blood pressure or high cholesterol. There have also been studies that show a link between PAD and people subjected to secondhand smoke.
Children growing up in smoking households are in even more danger of secondhand smoke because they do not have the option to go to an environment without cigarette smoke. Children exposed to smoke in their homes have an increased risk of developing respiratory infections.
Okay no smoking cigarettes, how about e-cigarettes?
There is a common misconception that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes and that they will help you quit smoking all together. E-cigarettes are a somewhat new technology to the market and do not have the long-term studies of conventional cigarettes, but new information is coming out daily on the health risks of using e-cigarettes. Some things to keep in mind if you think e-cigarettes are the way to go:
- They contain toxic substances that have been linked to lung and heart disease
- Secondhand smoke is just as dangerous as cigarettes through the user exhaling
- The highly addictive ingredient nicotine is included
- Children are at risk of being poisoned by the liquid used in the device
It is important to realize that there is no safe alternative to smoking. E-cigarettes are not safe for the user or those nearby. The best way to avoid these toxins is to give up all forms or smoking.
How do you know if you need treatment for PAD?
The risk factors for PAD can be sorted into two categories: the uncontrollable and the controllable. Here is how these categories break down:
- History of cardiovascular disease
- History of stroke
- History of PAD
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
If you have any of these risk factors, whether you can control them or not, it is a good idea to get checked for PAD.
So where do you find treatment? And what is involved?
Finding a doctor who specializes in the treatment of PAD may seem like a daunting task until you realize there are USA Vascular Centers that house vascular surgeons dedicated to treating PAD. Our doctors will create a specific plan to provide you with the necessary treatments to reduce your PAD risks and symptoms. Our non-surgical procedure involves inserting a tiny catheter into your affected artery and implanting a mesh stent. The mesh stent will then be expanding by a tiny balloon which will compress the plaque buildup in your artery and allow for blood to flow through it again.While our centers use this non-surgical procedure to improve the blood flow to your blocked arteries, they also encourage lifestyle changes.
Are lifestyle changes really necessary?
One of the first questions you will be asked by our doctors is “Do you smoke?” Hopefully this article has demonstrated the risks of smoking and how it can lead to the development of PAD. Receiving our non-surgical procedure will help reduce your PAD symptoms, but if you continue to smoke your PAD symptoms are very likely to keep coming back.
Lifestyle changes are essential to managing your PAD symptoms before and after treatment. These changes can include:
- Lower your blood pressure
- Lower your cholesterol
- Focus on eating a healthy diet
- Be active
Continuing to smoke will be counterproductive to these healthy lifestyle changes. We have already discussed how smoking affects your blood pressure and cholesterol, but smoking can impact your diet and exercise.
The chemicals contained in a cigarette affect the way your body is able to absorb vitamins and minerals. When this is combined with a decrease in your blood flow, your body will not be able to absorb the necessary nutrients to stay healthy. Additionally, nicotine is an appetite suppressant so when you smoke you are less inclined to eat and this can cause deficiencies is essential nutrients as well.
Smoking will also negatively impact your exercise routine as it affects your blood, heart, and lungs. PAD and smoking cause your arteries to become narrower, which decreases the amount of blood flow to your muscles and heart. This makes exercise difficult because you are not getting an adequate supply of blood or oxygen. Smoking increases your resting heart, and makes your heart work harder even when you are not being active. Your lungs are also impacted by smoking by decreasing their capacity so you cannot absorb as much oxygen. All of these side effects make exercise more difficult.
Ready for the next step?
Want to take the next steps in reducing your PAD symptoms? Contact USA Vascular Centers at 888-773-2193 or visit our website https://www.usavascularcenters.com to schedule a consultation with one of our vascular specialists.
Our treatments are covered by Medicare, most major health insurance, and some Medicaid plans.