Surgery? No Smoking Please

Behavioral Medicine Clinical Services

As we recognize the annual Great American Smokeout, Lucy Rathier explains why quitting before a medical procedure is so important.

Why is smoking so dangerous to our health?

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year. More than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals including 60 known cancer-causing agents, such as arsenic, hydrogen cyanide, cadmium, and carbon monoxide.

The health effects of smoking are far-reaching and it can damage every part of the body. Lung cancer isn’t the only cancer caused by smoking. It also contributes to cancers of the head and neck, stomach, kidney, pancreas, colon, bladder, cervix, and can also cause leukemia. Smoking also leads to stroke, blindness, heart disease, respiratory disease, reduced fertility, and hip fractures.

My surgery instructions say no smoking for 48 hours before the procedure. Why?

Smoking can increase the risk of anesthesia-related complications like wound infections, pneumonia, and heart attack. If you smoke, your heart and lungs don’t function as well as they should and you may experience breathing problems during or after surgery. Smokers who have surgery face a higher chance of blood clot formation in their legs than nonsmokers. These clots may travel to and damage the lungs.

After surgery, you’re much more likely to need a ventilator, a machine that breathes for you. This is because smoking decreases the amount of oxygen that reaches the cells in your surgical wound and increases your risk of breathing and lung problems. Consequently, your wound may heal more slowly and is more likely to become infected.

How will quitting smoking help my recovery?

By quitting before your procedure, you’ll reduce the likelihood of surgery-related complications. Quitting smoking before surgery can increase the amount of oxygen in your body. You’ll also improve your overall health and even add years to your life.

The earlier you quit, the greater your chances are of avoiding surgery-related complications. It’s especially important to avoid smoking on the day of your surgery. The body begins to heal within hours of quitting. About 12 hours after individuals quit smoking, heart and lungs begin to improve and function better as nicotine and carbon monoxide levels drop. It takes less than a day for blood flow to improve, which reduces the likelihood of post-operative complications.

What can I do to make quitting easier before surgery?

Remember, small steps can be meaningful and help build your motivation toward quitting smoking. Some tips:

  • Avoid buying cartons of cigarettes.
  • Avoid buying your regular brand.
  • Designate your home and car as non-smoking places.
  • Skip one smoke break at work each day.
  • Delay your first cigarette of the day and after work by five minutes. Increase the time each day.

However, cutting down is not the goal. When smokers try to quit without medication or counseling, only four to six percent of people succeed. Those who seek face-to-face counseling, along with nicotine-replacement therapy or medication, can quadruple this success rate. Counseling for smoking cessation is offered at both Rhode Island and The Miriam hospitals by Dr. Sandra Japuntich at 401-793-3338 and at our Behavioral Medicine Clinical Services at 401-793-8770. We’re here to help you quit.