Stop Smoking for Surgery
Why do doctors recommend quitting smoking before surgery? We look at the health risks and what you need to know.
Written by Patient Care Team Lead, Jonathan Corke , BN (Hons)
Published: Thursday, 17 June 2021
Why You Need to Stop Smoking Before Surgery
Some cosmetic surgeons will refuse outright to operate on smokers. For those smokers who are considering cosmetic surgery, this rule can seem a little harsh: is it really so bad to be a smoker?
The major risks associated with smoking even weeks before or after surgery are well-known.
At Medbelle, we aim to provide world-class patient care and an excellent result – but most important is that we take our patient’s health and safety seriously.
Keep reading for an explanation as to exactly why having surgery as a smoker is so dangerous, answers to some common questions patients have, as well as some hopefully helpful ideas regarding what you can do to quit if you currently smoke.
Understanding the Risks
To put it bluntly, patients who smoke tobacco have a notably higher risk of developing complications post-surgery. These complications include infection, delayed healing or even heart and lung problems.
Most people are well aware of the deleterious effects of smoking.
The nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke can interfere with how a patient’s body responds to surgery, both during and after.
Smoking results in decreased oxygen levels and damages the lungs, meaning airflow into the body is compromised, and the likelihood of complications rises.
Smoking can also weaken the immune system, which impairs the healing process and makes infections more likely to develop.
Finally, smoking can make the body’s response to anaesthesia more unpredictable and therefore more dangerous.
All this spells longer hospital stays and a greater chance of readmission down the line.
If your doctor has been strongly encouraging you to quit smoking before surgery, it’s only because the benefits are so clear – and not just in the short-term run-up to the surgery.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long before surgery should I stop smoking?
Clinical research has shown that patients who stop smoking around 1 month before surgery show a much lower risk of complication during surgery and better outcomes when measured 6 months later.
However, a collaboration between the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Federation of Anaesthesiologists (WFSA) and Australia’s University of Newcastle showed that patients could expect a further 19% improvement in health outcomes for every smoke-free week beyond this initial one month period.
Your doctor can discuss your unique situation in more detail with you. However, most surgeons at Medbelle ask patients to be nicotine-free for at least 4 or 5 weeks before surgery, although obviously longer is preferable.
After around 3 months, the body has had time to reverse some of the damage caused by smoking significantly, and healthy blood flow is restored to every organ of the body.
What about e-cigarettes?
Traditional cigarettes aren’t the only culprit of these risks. Smoking cigars, shisha (hookah), recreational drugs like marijuana, and vaping can cause the same complications and need to be avoided before and after surgery.
Many patients are also surprised to learn that nicotine replacement therapy like nicotine patches or gums are also problematic.
This is because nicotine in any form is a vasoconstrictor meaning it narrows your blood vessels and results in compromised blood flow, and therefore reduced oxygen levels to your body’s tissues.
I only smoke very occasionally; is that still a problem?
Doctors recommend quitting entirely, even if you feel your tobacco usage is very minimal.
Even one cigarette is enough to have profound and measurable effects on the body’s respiratory, cardiovascular and immune systems. So it’s very important to be honest about your nicotine use. If you’re unsure, ask your doctor or surgeon for help on how to quit as you prepare for your cosmetic procedure.
My surgery is booked, but I’ve since had a cigarette. What should I do?
Surgeons at Medbelle appreciate that quitting smoking is challenging and doesn’t always work the first time around.
If you’re worried that you may not be completely nicotine free before your surgery, contact us. Your health comes first, so you must notify your surgeon immediately so the surgery can be rebooked.
Options to Help You Quit Smoking
Though it may be frustrating to hear, the fact is that it’s highly recommended to postpone any kind of surgery until you’ve successfully stopped smoking for at least a month beforehand. Thankfully, there are many options available to make the process easier.
The NHS has a free and effective programme called Smokefree to support those who wish to quit smoking, or your GP or plastic surgeon can point you in the direction of other suitable programmes.
It’s always a good idea to give yourself as much time, patience and support as you need – going cold turkey seldom works.
Be aware, however, that although nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can gradually help you quit, you’ll also probably need to have quit all NRTs for at least a month before surgery.
With the right support and a commitment to doing what’s best for your health, you can put yourself in the best possible position to receive the cosmetic procedure of your dreams.
Though quitting the habit is difficult, some patients are encouraged by the prospect of not only getting to have the procedure they want but knowing that they’ve given themselves the gift of a healthier lifestyle in the process.
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