While most people are familiar with the devastating consequences of smoking 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 starts with either no symptoms at all, or with leg pains when walking (claudication). 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, causes increase in 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 treatment available for PAD but if aggressive lifestyle changes (smoking cessation, exercise, low fat diet, weight loss) are not instituted, then gangrene, ulcers or wounds set in, with 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 which is very sad. 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.
BIO: Dr. Aparajita is a fellowship-trained vascular and endovascular surgeon. She is a co-author of 20+ journal articles and publications and was recently nominated for an Inspiration Award by the American Medical Association (AMA).