• Why You Should Be Smoke-Free for Surgery

    IMAGE Your doctor has talked to you about surgery. Just the thought of it may cause you to feel stressed. If it is your habit to light up a cigarette during tense times, there are many reasons why you should kick the habit now—before your procedure.

    Facing the Potential Risks

    Like many people facing surgery, you may really want to quit. Or, you may think that smoking will not cause a problem for the particular type of surgery that you need. However, no matter what type of surgery you are having (eg, periodontal, orthopedic, plastic surgery, etc), smoking can increase your risk of complications. More than 200 studies have found that, compared to nonsmokers, smokers may have an increased risk of:
    • Needing to stay in the hospital longer
    • Needing more follow-up visits with the doctor
    • Having more pain, bleeding, and less functioning
    • Getting an infection
    • Being sent to the intensive care unit (ICU)
    • Being readmitted to the hospital
    One of the many concerns that doctors have about smoking is that it hinders wound healing. Nicotine triggers the blood vessels to become narrower, affecting blood flow. In addition, carbon monoxide, found in cigarette smoke, gets into the bloodstream, which means that there is less oxygen for the tissues. Just when your body needs more oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood, smoking acts as a barrier—blocking your body’s natural process to heal itself.

    Zeroing in on Your Goal

    Keep your goal in mind: to have a successful surgery with very few complications. No matter if you need surgery on your gums, shoulder, or any other body part, quitting smoking may help you heal faster and have a better outcome. Just think—having fewer complications can translate into less pain, a quicker return to your usual routine, fewer trips to the doctor and pharmacy, and more money in your pocket (if you consider what you spend on copayments, prescriptions, and gas).
    Even if your surgery is already scheduled, it is not too late to quit! While it is better to be smoke-free for months—rather than weeks—before surgery, making the decision to quit is an important one for your overall health. So if you are getting closer to the surgery date, use that as a reason to finally kick the habit!
    If you think that quitting so soon before your surgery will not make a difference, the American Cancer Society points out that your heart rate and blood pressure are reduced just 20 minutes after quitting! And within 12 hours, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood is also reduced. Two weeks to three months of being smoke-free can result in better circulation and improved lung function.

    Starting the Process

    Do you feel inspired to quit, but do not know where to begin? There are so many smoking cessation options that you are sure to find one that fits your lifestyle. A great place to start the process is by making an appointment with your doctor. She can provide you with information about:
    • Nicotine replacement products (patches, gum, and lozenges)—While using one of these products is a much safer choice than smoking, you should still talk to your doctor about any potential risks nicotine may pose during or after surgery.
    • Nicotine inhalers or nasal sprays
    • Prescription medicines (eg, varenicline, bupropion) that can reduce the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal
    • Smoking cessation classes and support groups
    • Alternative methods (eg, hypnosis, acupuncture)
    In order to be successful with your quit plan, you may need to combine strategies, like using a nicotine replacement product and joining a support group. Try different methods to reach your goal of being a nonsmoker. Also, visit websites like the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, which provide a lot of smoking cessation resources. In addition, Smokefree.gov offers a “Step-by-Step Quit Guide.”
    Are you waiting for your surgery to be scheduled? Now would be a good time to talk to your doctor about your desire to quit smoking. The surgery may be postponed (especially if it is elective) to give you more time to be smoke-free.


    American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org/

    American Lung Association http://www.lungusa.org/

    Smokefree.gov http://www.smokefree.gov/


    Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca/

    The Lung Association http://www.lung.ca/


    Dotinga R. Quitting smoking simplifies surgical recovery. EBSCO Health Library, Health Day News website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Published November 12, 2009. Accessed June 26, 2011.

    Lindstrom D, Sadr Azodi O, Wladis A, et al. Effects of a perioperative smoking cessation intervention on postoperative complications: a randomized trial. Ann Surg. 2008;248(5):739-745.

    Lindstrom D, Sundberg-Petersson I, Adami J, Tønnesen H: Disappointment and drop-out rate after being allocated to control group in a smoking cessation trial. Contemp Clin Trials. 2010;31:22-26.

    Myers K, Hajek P, Hinds C, McRobbie H. Stopping smoking shortly before surgery and postoperative complications. Archives of Internal Medicine website. Available at: http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/archinternmed.2011.97v1?rss=1. Published March 14, 2011. Accessed June 26, 2011.

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    Smoking can harm the long-term effects of some oral surgery procedures. Perio.org website. Available at: http://www.perio.org/consumer/smoker-surgery.htm. Published September 18, 2007. Accessed June 26, 2011.

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    Tobacco use disorder: other management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/. Updated May 6, 2011. Accessed June 26, 2011.

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    When smokers quit—What are the benefits over time? The American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/guide-to-quitting-smoking-benefits. Updated January 31, 2011. Accessed June 26, 2011.

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