Amy Ward MSN, APN, and Catherine Cristofalo, MSN, APN
Start your New Year off with a life changing decision to do what you have said you will do for years; quit smoking.
Cigarette smoking is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States. It is well known that smoking causes disease of the lung tissue, otherwise known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and is associated with many different types of cancers. Smoking also leads to disease of the arteries which are the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood to all of the tissues in the body. When the arteries degenerate or develop significant plaque from smoking (a process called atherosclerosis) it can result in heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), limb loss, erectile dysfunction or even death. Quitting smoking is critical to improving one’s overall health and halting the degeneration of the arteries, consequently preventing these problems from occurring.
There are over 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes, hundreds of which are toxic and more than 70 cause cancer. Nicotine is the primary chemical in cigarettes that causes addiction. It is a stimulant that causes the heart to beat faster, increases blood pressure, and causes the arteries to narrow or become smaller. Additionally, nicotine causes the release of fat and cholesterol into the bloodstream which leads to hardening of the arteries. Nicotine dependence is the most common form of chemical dependence in the United States.
Smoking can lead to a stroke in several ways. Most notably, it can cause the main arteries supplying the brain, the carotid arteries, to become filled with plaque. As the degree of plaque increases, there is an increase in likelihood of suffering a stroke. Stroke can lead to paralysis, loss of speech, inability to walk, or even death.
Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is the narrowing of arteries that supply blood, rich in oxygen, to the muscles and tissue in the arms and legs. Smoking can cause PAD by reducing adequate blood supply to the limbs which may lead to leg pain with walking, gangrene and possibly amputation. Smokers are more likely to develop PAD than non-smokers.
Smoking can interfere with sexual health as it can cause damage to the arteries that supply blood to the penis, resulting in Erectile Dysfunction. An erection cannot occur if there is not enough blood flow to the penis. The nicotine in cigarettes can narrow the arteries that supply blood to the penis, causing insufficient blood flow to achieve an erection.
Aneurysms occur when walls of the arteries become weak allowing expansion. This could potentially lead to artery rupture and internal bleeding would result, which could be life threatening. Smokers are more likely to develop aneurysms than non smokers and continued smoking can cause aneurysms to grow and expand.
Buerger’s Disease (thromboangiitis obliterans) is a vascular disease that affects smokers. This condition can strike young patients (ages 20-40) and can unfortunately result in limb loss due to poor circulation. It would otherwise be uncommon for a person of this age group to experience problems with blood flow that results in an amputation.
It can be very difficult to quit smoking, as research suggests, nicotine may be as addictive as substances such as heroin, cocaine, or alcohol. Quitting smoking may take several attempts before achieving success. Personal stress, weight gain, and uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal (anxiety, irritability, increased appetite) can cause a person to fail at their attempt at smoking cessation. The benefits of quitting smoking are numerous including reducing the risk for cancers, heart disease, stroke, PAD, lung disease, and infertility. The positive effects of smoking cessation start within 48 hours of your last cigarette. Blood pressure will decrease, heart rate lowers, carbon monoxide levels in the blood return to normal, oxygen levels in the blood increases, the chance of having a heart attack decreases, and one’s sense of taste and smell improves. Within the first year of quitting smoking, circulation and lung function improves, and shortness of breath and coughing will decrease.
Resources are available to help smokers achieve success when abstaining from cigarettes. There are over the counter nicotine replacement medications (nicotine patch, gum, lozenge), prescription nicotine replacement medications (nicotine inhaler and nasal spray), prescription non-nicotine medications (bupropion SR, Chantix), counseling, support groups, and alternative therapies (hypnosis, acupuncture). A free telephone support service, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, is available to help smokers who are interested in quitting. Combining medications and counseling is recommended for the greatest success. Cooper Cancer Institute offers a Smoking Cessation program six-week group session along with individual counseling. For more information, call 856.673.4254.
Don’t let another year pass you by, take control of your health and quit smoking.