Unless you have been living under a rock for the last several decades, you have likely heard all the reasons why you should quit smoking before surgery. Aside from the most obvious problems it can cause – vastly increased risk of cancers, shortened life expectancy and enormous cost, for example – it can seriously affect how you respond to and heal following orthopedic surgery. At Dayton Orthopedic Surgery, we want nothing more than to get you as healthy as possible. And for our stalwart smoking patients, that unfortunately includes asking you to quit smoking before surgery.
But Why, exactly?
If you smoke, you have a higher risk of serious complications during and after surgery.
What are the risks?
If you continue to smoke right up until the time you have surgery, you will be more likely to:
- starve your heart of oxygen
- form blood clots in your veins
- have difficulty breathing during and after surgery
- increase your risk of infection
- have a higher risk of lung complications, such as pneumonia and lung collapse
- impair the healing of bones, skin and wounds
- change the breakdown of certain drugs in your blood.
Smoking and anesthesia
When you have surgery, you usually have an anesthetic drug so that the operation can be performed without pain. If you smoke, your body is less able to cope with the stress caused by this anesthesia.
Chest and breathing complications
Smokers have higher rates of lung complications after surgery, compared with people who have stopped smoking for at least eight weeks before surgery. The chemicals in cigarette smoke can paralyze or destroy the tiny hair-like cilia in your lungs which work to keep them clear. This results in you having more mucus in your lungs and narrower airways. Smokers are also more likely to suffer from a collapsed lung.
Reduced oxygen supply to your heart and body
The nicotine in cigarette smoke increases your heart rate and blood pressure every time you smoke. The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke depletes the oxygen levels in your blood.
If you smoke, you can have up to 10 times more carbon monoxide in your blood than non-smokers. This makes it harder for your heart and body to get the oxygen it needs. High levels of carbon monoxide can also disturb the rhythm of your heart during surgery.
The combined effects of carbon monoxide and nicotine can be dangerous. It may result in you needing to be given extra oxygen to prevent damage to vital organs, such as your brain. If you have heart disease—where your supply of blood and oxygen is already reduced—it is very important that you stop smoking at least 24 hours before surgery.
Chemicals in cigarette smoke cause changes in your blood, making it thicker, stickier and more likely to clot. Abnormal blood clots can cause heart attack, stroke or other serious medical problems.
Smoking decreases your resistance to infection. If you smoke, you will have a higher risk of infections of the chest and to surgical wounds.
Impaired healing of bones, skin and wounds
Smoking can slow down and interfere with the healing of bones, skin and other body tissues. Smokers are more likely to suffer from wound infections, longer healing times and problems with scarring, compared to people who quit smoking before surgery for eight weeks or more.
Doctors recommend that you quit smoking before surgery for a minimum of eight weeks, to reduce the risk associated with smoking.
If you would like help with quitting smoking, please speak with your primary care physician. Prescription stop-smoking aids are available to make this stressful time in your life easier.