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Four Reasons You Should Quit Smoking Before Surgery

Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to improve your health. But if you are a long-time or heavy smoker, quitting may seem too hard, or even impossible. And, you might wonder, how can quitting after many years of smoking make a difference in the few weeks before your surgery?

The truth is that quitting smoking just four to six weeks before your surgery—and staying smoke-free afterward—can lower your risk of serious complications and help you recover more quickly.

That is where UPMC’s Surgery Optimization Clinic can help. Surgery optimization specialists work with you to help you quit smoking so you are in the best possible shape before having surgery.

Here’s why quitting smoking before surgery is important.

Why Quitting Smoking Helps

Smokers are at high risk of developing complications during and after surgery. And those complications can be life-threatening. Here are four reasons why smoking puts you at an increased risk for problems:

1. Smoking prevents healing.

Your body needs a healthy supply of oxygen to help it heal after surgery. When you smoke, the molecules that transport oxygen throughout your body, called hemoglobin, are unable to carry amount of oxygen to your organs and tissues. As a result, your body becomes deprived of the oxygen it needs to repair wounds and build healthy new tissue.

Smoking also causes narrowing of the blood vessels, which can prevent blood, oxygen nutrients from reaching your healing wound.

2. Smoking raises your risk of blood clots.

Smoking thickens your blood. That makes it more difficult for blood to travel through your blood vessels. If you are a smoker, your thickened blood raises your risk of developing a blood clot in your legs. If a blood clot travels from your legs to another part of your body, it could cause a heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in your lungs).

3. Smoking raises your risk of infection.

Your blood contains cells called neutrophils that help fight infection. Smoking causes these cells to lose some of their infection-fighting power, which can double your chances of getting an infection after surgery compared to a non-smoker. If you develop an infection, it will not only slow your recovery, but you may need to take antibiotics, have another surgery, or spend more time in the hospital.

4. Smoking increases inflammation and sometimes pain.

The chemicals found in cigarettes can increase the amount of inflammation, or swelling, throughout your body. After surgery, this extra swelling can cause smokers to experience more pain than non-smokers.

Getting the Support You Need

If you develop an infection, it will not only slow your recovery, but you may need to take antibiotics, have another surgery, or spend more time in the hospital. There, you will meet with a skilled nurse practitioner. They will perform a complete exam to find out more about your overall health.

In addition to a head-to-toe exam, you will get pre-surgery education about lowering your risk for problems. Together, you and your nurse practitioner will make a step-by-step plan to help you achieve your goal of quitting smoking. This will include referral to smoking cessation programs or other specialists who can help.

As you work toward being smoke-free, you will receive follow-up calls from a nurse care coordinator to check on your progress. We also will share your progress with your surgeon, family doctor, and other health care providers. That will help them decide the best course for your care.

Reducing Your Surgery Risks

Our goal is to help improve your chances of having a successful surgery. If you are a smoker, it’s never too late to quit.

The specialists at the UPMC Surgery Optimization Clinic can help you take the first steps toward quitting smoking and reducing your risks of complications. For more information, talk to surgeon or call us at 717-782-4785.

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