According to the National Institutes of Health, cigarette smoking is the No. 1 preventable cause of death and illness in the United States, and is responsible for one in every five deaths. Smoking does more than clog your lungs with tar and increase your risk for lung cancer. It also damages your blood cells, veins, and heart.
A little goes a long way
You might think that since you cut down on cigarettes, you’re in the clear. You’re not. Light smoking and even second-hand smoke suffuses your veins with toxins that can lead to life-threatening vascular conditions, such as:
- Atherosclerosis — clogged or stiffened arteries that slow down healthy blood flow
- Coronary heart disease — arteries in the heart become blocked or narrowed
- Stroke — loss of brain function due to interrupted blood flow
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm — an enlargement in the main blood vessel in the abdomen that has the potential to rupture
Smoking-related blood vessel damage can also lead to peripheral artery disease (PAD), which makes the circulation in your legs and arms so sluggish that you may develop gangrene, and need to have a limb amputated. PAD can also cause a stroke or heart attack.
You have a greater than average risk of vein and artery damage if you also have diabetes, are obese, or take birth control pills. Even children who are exposed to second-hand smoke may develop damaged blood vessels, which increases their risk for disease and sudden death.
Seek immediate medical help if you experience the following symptoms of vein damage, such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Numbness in your hands, feet, legs, or arms
- Confusion or memory loss
- Irregular or rapid heart beat
Dr. Obinna Nowabi is a vascular surgeon and PAD expert here at Vein Health Clinics in Oviedo, Winter Haven, and Apopka, Florida. If you have vascular symptoms or are worried about how smoking is affecting the health of your veins, contact our office for a consultation.
How your veins react to smoke
Cigarette smoke contains chemicals, such as nicotine and carbon monoxide, that make it harder for your veins and heart to work efficiently. Nicotine makes your heart work with such effort that it increases your heart’s need for oxygen. Unfortunately, carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen that’s in your blood, placing a double burden on your heart.
Nicotine and carbon monoxide also damage your arterial walls, allowing the buildup of fatty deposits called plaques. The plaques narrow your blood vessels, so that your heart has has trouble pumping your blood through them.
Smoking also raises the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) in your blood while simultaneously decreasing the amount of health-promoting good cholesterol (HDL). The LDL-laden blood becomes thicker than normal, and more sluggish, too, so it can form clots and blockages that lead to heart attacks and stroke.
It isn’t pretty
One sign that your veins are already damaged is the presence of unsightly, painful varicose veins or even small spider veins in your face or legs. Visible veins have lost their ability to push blood forward efficiently, which causes the blood to backflow and pool. The pooled blood enlarges and twists your veins so that they show through your skin.
While smoking doesn’t necessarily cause varicose veins, you’re more likely to have them if you do smoke. Varicose veins also raise your risk for a condition called deep-vein thrombosis, which can lead to the development of life-threatening blood clots.
What happens when you quit
Finally, some good news: As soon as you quit smoking, your veins begin to repair themselves. That doesn’t mean you’re in the clear healthwise. Your habit may have created sufficient damage to still pose danger, which is why Dr. Nowabi recommends a vascular evaluation.
But here are some of the benefits you can expect when you stub out your last cigarette and ban smoke from your life:
- Within just 20 minutes, your blood pressure and heart rate normalize
- After a day, your risk for a heart attack decreases
- Inside a month, your cholesterol levels become healthier
- Within a year, your risk for heart attack decreases by 50%
- Several years after you quit, your cardiovascular system will be as healthy as if you’d never smoked
Dr. Nowabi can help you quit smoking and restore your veins to health. In addition to being an expert at reversing PAD, he also treats varicose veins and spider veins with minimally invasive therapies or surgery.
To be sure your veins are healthy and functional, call Vein Health Clinics today. You can reach our friendly staff by phone or book a consultation online.