Why You Should Be Smoke-Free for Surgery
by Rebecca J. Stahl, MA
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.
Facing the Potential Risks
No matter what type of surgery you are having, smoking can increase your risk of complications. When compared to nonsmokers, smokers may have an increased risk of:
Delayed wound healing can affect all surgeries or injuries. Wounds need a steady supply of oxygen and other substances to heal well. Blood flow delivers these items. Smoking causes healing delays because:
Zeroing in on Your Goal
Keep your goal in mind: to have a successful surgery with very few problems. Quitting smoking may help you heal faster no matter what type of surgery. This can mean less pain, a quicker return to your usual routine, fewer trips to the doctor, and more money in your pocket.
It is best to be smoke-free for months before surgery. However, if time did not allow, quit as soon as possible. Your heart rate and blood pressure can lower just 20 minutes after quitting. Within 12 hours, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood is also reduced. Two weeks to 3 months of being smoke-free can lead to better blood flow and improved lung function.
Starting the Process
There are many tools to help you quit. Talk to your doctor about your choices such as:
A combination of steps may help. Try different methods to reach your goal of being a nonsmoker. More support can be found on websites like:
Talk to your doctor about your risks before any surgery. Make sure they know that you smoke. The surgery may be postponed to give you more time to be smoke-free.
American Lung Association
Canadian Cancer Society
Osteoporosis causes and risk factors. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/osteoporosis-causes-and-risk-factors. Updated May 9, 2018. Accessed February 17, 2020.
Smoking and bone healing—a risky surgical combination. Foot Health Facts—American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons website. Available at: https://www.foothealthfacts.org/article/smoking-and-bone-healing-%E2%80%93-a-risky-surgical-combin. Accessed February 14, 2020.
Smoking and wound healing. UW Health website. Available at: https://www.uwhealth.org/healthfacts/tobacco/6150.pdf. Published January 2019. Accessed February 14, 2020.
Surgery and smoking. Ortho Info—American Academy or Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/surgery-and-smoking/. Published April 2019. Accessed February 14, 2020.
Last reviewed March 2020 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 3/23/2020
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