Not Healing Well? Quitting Smoking May Help!

Blog Post created by dr_hurt on Mar 5, 2009
Doctors have long been aware that smoking can impair healing in many different circumstances. Research with patients who have had surgery show smoking can lead to increased complications in wound healing. In fact, some plastic surgeons will refuse to perform cosmetic surgery for people who smoke because the outcomes are so much worse (1).

Post operative patients who smoke have more infections, wound dehiscence (skin doesn’t “knit together” right), and wound and flap necrosis (the skin tissue dies and needs to be cut away) (2). Continued smoking can lead to poor outcomes with dental implants and related dental surgery (3) as well as many other kinds of surgeries including those for breast cancer, coronary artery bypass, abdominal surgeries (such as having your appendix removed), and orthopedic surgery (like having an operation on your back or having a hip replacement). Smoking also impairs healing after a bone fracture.

Smoking affects wound healing because of decreased oxygen delivery to the tissue. Smoking for 10 minutes can decrease the tissue oxygen concentration for as long as 1 hour, and the tissue of people who smoke a pack per day would be constantly deprived of oxygen known as hypoxia (1). Smoking causes decreased oxygenation because carbon monoxide attaches to the red blood cells and displaces the oxygen while other chemicals such as hydrogen cyanide interfere with various cell types involved in the healing process.

Stopping smoking promotes healthy healing. You can begin the process to relearn your life without cigarettes by visiting www.BecomeAnEX.org and start putting together a quit plan and consider medication options that might be helpful. Seeking support from others in the EX community can help, too.

Dr. Richard D. Hurt is an internationally recognized expert on tobacco dependence. A native of Murray, Kentucky, he joined Mayo Clinic in 1976 and is now a Professor of Medicine at its College of Medicine. In 1988, he founded the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center and since then its staff has treated over 33,000 patients for tobacco dependence. Send your questions directly to Dr. Hurt at AskTheExpert@becomeanex.org