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Resource: Smoking and Wound Healing at UPMC in Central Pa.

Risks of Smoking While Healing

Oxygen is the basis for wound healing, and it begins at the cellular level. Smoking deprives the body of the oxygen it needs to repair wounds and build new tissue. Chemicals found in cigarette smoke cause many changes to the way the body handles oxygen. Hemoglobin, a molecule that transports oxygen throughout the body, cannot carry as much oxygen as usual when it is exposed to cigarette smoke.

Smoking also narrows the blood vessels. This can slow the supply of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the healing wound. In addition, smoking makes blood thicker so it doesn't flow as easily through narrowed blood vessels. Blood thickening increases the risk for the development of blood clots in the leg, which can cause heart attacks, strokes and pulmonary embolism.

Why You Shouldn't Smoke After Surgery

Chemicals in cigarette smoke can limit the function of neutrophils, the infection fighting cells of blood. Without normal neutrophils, the chance of infection increases which may require antibiotics or further surgery. Smokers have double the risk of wound infection after surgery compared to nonsmokers.

Chemicals from cigarette smoking may also increase inflammation, which can heighten the amount of pain experienced by smokers.

The great news is that if you quit smoking before surgery, your risk of complications decreases!

If you can stop smoking eight weeks before surgery and remain smoke-free after surgery, you can lower the chances of problems. 

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