If you suffer from peripheral artery disease (PAD), you may wonder if smoking is a risk factor or a cause of your condition, as it is commonly linked to many health issues. If you’re a smoker, it can be helpful to understand the role that smoking plays for someone with PAD and how you can seek help. 

PAD and Smoking: Does Smoking Cause PAD?

Whether smoking causes PAD is a complicated question, but studies indicate that smoking is a contributing factor. PAD is estimated to affect anywhere from 3% to 10% of the population, but that prevalence goes up to 15% to 20% in patients who smoke, have diabetes, or are elderly. Even secondhand smoke can contribute to your vascular health if you spend enough time around it.

PAD is a narrowing or blocking of the arteries due to the buildup of plaque, which prevents oxygen, blood, and other nutrients from getting to your legs. When this buildup reaches a certain point, it becomes atherosclerosis, which is more prevalent in smokers. As this condition restricts blood flow, it can lead to PAD.

Smoking intensifies the problem of plaque buildup if you already suffer from peripheral artery disease. “When you smoke, the nicotine causes your arteries to constrict and become narrower, which reduces the amount of blood flow further,” states Dr. Yan Katsnelson.

If a person continues to smoke after developing PAD, it can increase the progression of the disease, including limiting your mobility and dealing with pain when sitting or sleeping.

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How Is Smoking Related to Peripheral Artery Disease?

Smoking is one of the most correlated risk factors for PAD. Besides the fact that nicotine causes the blood vessels to tighten, the chemicals in cigarettes can have a significant impact, including the following:

  • Allows blood clots to form 
  • Causes coagulation making your blood thicker
  • Impacts platelet function affecting how well the blood cells clump together to stop bleeding

All of these issues impact how blood flows through the arteries. Because smoking can impact blood flow, it can either be a factor that leads to PAD or exacerbate the condition after it has been diagnosed. 

Can Quitting Smoking Reverse PAD?

If you have been diagnosed with PAD or suspect that you have this condition, it is highly recommended to stop smoking. Although quitting smoking can be a difficult journey, this lifestyle change may stop the progression of your symptoms. 

A study from the US National Library of Medicine found patients who stopped smoking didn’t develop new signs of claudication seven years later while those who continued to smoke saw a progression in PAD. Claudication is pain or weakness in the legs that starts with physical activity and stops within minutes of resting; it is also a symptom of peripheral artery disease. 

While you may notice fewer symptoms, stopping smoking won’t reverse your PAD, so it is still important to seek treatment for your condition. 

Complications of Smoking and PAD

Smoking can speed up the effects of PAD, which leads to even more serious health issues. Yan Katsnelson, M.D., explains, “the nicotine causes the arteries to tighten, while the tobacco smoke lowers good cholesterol and raises bad cholesterol. High levels of bad cholesterol is a risk factor in getting PAD because it can increase plaque buildup.”

When a person with PAD continues to smoke, they are at a greater risk for the following:

  • Graft failure
  • Amputation
  • Heart attack
  • Death

Schedule a Consultation With USA Vascular Centers

If you’ve been diagnosed with PAD, USA Vascular Centers is here to help. We provide minimally invasive treatments to improve your quality of life. For your convenience, we offer telemedicine appointments, which allow you to speak with a knowledgeable professional from the comfort of your home. Call us at 888.723.2193 or schedule an appointment online today.

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Dr. Yan Katsnelson is a philanthropist, business owner, and highly skilled cardiac surgeon. He is the Founder and CEO of USA Vascular Centers, which is part of USA Clinics Group, the parent company of USA Fibroid Centers, USA Vein Clinics, and USA Oncology Centers with more than 90 facilities nationwide. Dr. Yan has established himself as a strong advocate for accessibility and affordability of the most advanced medical care close to home, and his mission is to create a positive experience for each patient with compassionate, personalized, and expert care.