Your doctor has talked to you about surgery. Just the thought of it may cause you to feel stressed. If it is your habit to light up a cigarette during tense times, there are many reasons why you should kick the habit now—before your procedure.
Like many people facing surgery, you may really want to quit. Or, you may think that smoking will not cause a problem for the particular type of surgery that you need. However, no matter what type of surgery you are having (eg, periodontal, orthopedic, plastic surgery, etc), smoking can increase your risk of complications. More than 200 studies have found that, compared to nonsmokers, smokers may have an increased risk of:
- Needing to stay in the hospital longer
- Needing more follow-up visits with the doctor
- Having more pain, bleeding, and less functioning
- Getting an infection
- Being sent to the intensive care unit (ICU)
- Being readmitted to the hospital
One of the many concerns that doctors have about smoking is that it hinders wound healing. Nicotine triggers the blood vessels to become narrower, affecting blood flow. In addition, carbon monoxide, found in cigarette smoke, gets into the bloodstream, which means that there is less oxygen for the tissues. Just when your body needs more oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood, smoking acts as a barrier—blocking your body’s natural process to heal itself.
Keep your goal in mind: to have a successful surgery with very few complications. No matter if you need surgery on your gums, shoulder, or any other body part, quitting smoking may help you heal faster and have a better outcome. Just think—having fewer complications can translate into less pain, a quicker return to your usual routine, fewer trips to the doctor and pharmacy, and more money in your pocket (if you consider what you spend on copayments, prescriptions, and gas).
Even if your surgery is already scheduled, it is not too late to quit! While it is better to be smoke-free for months—rather than weeks—before surgery, making the decision to quit is an important one for your overall health. So if you are getting closer to the surgery date, use that as a reason to finally kick the habit!
If you think that quitting so soon before your surgery will not make a difference, the American Cancer Society points out that your heart rate and blood pressure are reduced just 20 minutes after quitting! And within 12 hours, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood is also reduced. Two weeks to three months of being smoke-free can result in better circulation and improved lung function.
Do you feel inspired to quit, but do not know where to begin? There are so many smoking cessation options that you are sure to find one that fits your lifestyle. A great place to start the process is by making an appointment with your doctor. She can provide you with information about:
- Nicotine replacement products (patches, gum, and lozenges)—While using one of these products is a much safer choice than smoking, you should still talk to your doctor about any potential risks nicotine may pose during or after surgery.
- Nicotine inhalers or nasal sprays
- Prescription medicines (eg, varenicline, bupropion) that can reduce the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal
- Smoking cessation classes and support groups
- Alternative methods (eg, hypnosis, acupuncture)
In order to be successful with your quit plan, you may need to combine strategies, like using a nicotine replacement product and joining a support group. Try different methods to reach your goal of being a nonsmoker. Also, visit websites like the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, which provide a lot of smoking cessation resources. In addition, Smokefree.gov offers a “Step-by-Step Quit Guide.”
Are you waiting for your surgery to be scheduled? Now would be a good time to talk to your doctor about your desire to quit smoking. The surgery may be postponed (especially if it is elective) to give you more time to be smoke-free.
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Last reviewed July 2011 by Lawrence Frisch, MD, MPH
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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