It is no secret that smoking can be bad for your health. Doctors warn that smoking has a detrimental effect on our lungs and our heart. Smoking causes our teeth to become stained and also degrades the appearance of the skin. These are well-known disadvantages of an ongoing smoking habit. What may not be so well-known is the fact that smoking also affects the veins.
The concern that vein specialists have about smoking is that the chemicals in cigarettes, such as nicotine, inhibit optimal circulation through the legs. When blood cannot move efficiently through the veins in the legs, stagnation occurs. This results in weakening in vein walls and swelling of the vein. The outward consequence of vein weakening is ropy, bulging varicose veins.
What Happens to the Veins When You Smoke
Tissues and organs are replenished with nutrients and oxygen as blood travels the body through a network of blood vessels. Blood flow becomes restricted when plaque clumps together and adheres to vessel walls. What causes plaque? The nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarettes. This buildup of plaque that narrows the blood vessels is known as atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis can occur anywhere in the body. When it occurs in the area of the heart, it leads to coronary artery disease. This condition may present as chest pain or irregular heartbeat. A more serious concern is that coronary artery disease will cause a heart attack or heart failure.
When atherosclerosis occurs in arteries that supply the organs, head, and limbs with blood, the condition is referred to as Peripheral Artery Disease. This condition frequently affects the arteries in the legs, where symptoms like numbness, weakness, pain, and cramping may occur in the calf muscles, thighs, or hips. Just because arterial blockage occurs in the legs does not mean Peripheral Artery Disease is not potentially serious. This condition is also associated with heart disease and stroke.
Studies suggest that smokers have a significantly higher risk of developing deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot in the leg. Symptoms may include discoloration on the skin of the leg, swelling, pain, or a warm sensation. However, it is possible that the clot will not cause any symptoms at all. There is substantial concern related to DVT because, if the clot breaks free, it can travel to the lungs.
Keeping Your Veins Healthy
Stopping smoking is one of the best things any person can do for their long-term health. Dr. Lee can assist patients in addressing uncomfortable varicose veins, but lifestyle habits are also necessary to support vein health.