While most people are familiar with the devastating consequences smoking has on their lungs (COPD, cancer), heart (coronary artery disease), or brain (stroke), its direct relation to limb loss escapes public attention!
For far too many smokers, the first time they learn of the connection with limb loss is when a vascular surgeon diagnoses them with Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD). The disease is either diagnosed with no symptoms at all, or with leg pains when walking (claudication) and much more commonly with gangrene of the toes or non-healing wounds of the feet. If the patient continues poor lifestyle habits, like smoking, PAD slowly starves the toes, feet, and legs of oxygen, which can lead to gangrene and/or amputation, if not treated.
How Does Smoking Lead to Amputations?
- Nicotine from cigarettes is a stimulant that thickens the blood, increases heart rate, and narrows the blood vessels.
- It increases LDL (bad cholesterol) in the blood and lowers HDL (good cholesterol).
- It hastens the progression of narrowing or hardening of blood vessels by atherosclerosis.
All these changes lead to less blood getting to the feet and ultimately lead to the development of PAD. In the early stages, there is a variety of treatments available for PAD. If aggressive lifestyle changes (smoking cessation, exercise, low-fat diet, weight loss) are not instituted, then gangrene, ulcers, or wounds set in, leaving few treatment options and limited success rates.
Unfortunately, studies show that 90% of patients with PAD are smokers, and despite counseling and control measures, only 20-25% are able to quit successfully. This is very sad because quitting smoking is probably the most important thing that you can do to save your legs.
The good news is that a variety of support measures and extremely effective medications are available free of cost to help you quit. Smoking pipe and vaping also involves release of nicotine in blood so the effects are similar to cigarettes. Ask your doctor for help or visit tobaccofreeflorida.com to learn about ways to quit smoking.