Surgical Infection Risk: Another Reason To Quit Smoking in 2015

Improved tissue and bone healing after surgery is one powerful reason to quit smoking—but there are more. We explain how kicking the habit also reduces your risk of post-surgical infection and pain.



There is never a bad time to quit smoking, and there are no shortage of health benefits you’ll realize by sticking to a resolution to quit. The decision not to smoke, or to stop smoking, is one of the most powerful preventative steps you can take to ensure your good health.

As an orthopedic practice, we want to help you reach your health goals and enjoy the lifestyle you love. When surgery is part of your treatment plan, whether or not you smoke plays an important role in your outcome. We explain how smoking affects your surgical recovery, and tell you what you can do to reduce the surgical risks associated with smoking and better support your healing process.

The surgical risks faced by smokers include the following:

  • Bones and tissues may not bond or heal as well as they do in non-smoking surgical patients.
  • Smoking creates a higher risk of post-surgical infection.
  • Post-surgical pain can be higher in smokers.

Our previous blog explains how smoking has a negative effect on the body’s ability to heal. In this blog, we look at why smokers face higher risks of post-surgical infection and pain.

The harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke—including nicotine, hydrogen cyanide, and carbon monoxide—reduce the body’s ability to use oxygen, impeding the healing process. These chemicals also rein in the “body guard” cells in the body, called neutrophils. Neutrophils are one of five types of white blood cells, and make up about 60 percent of all white cells. These short-lived white blood cells protect us by identifying, surrounding, and “eating” infection-causing bacteria and other foreign matter before it can cause damage. When they are healthy, neutrophils preserve a safe environment for healing. However, research has shown that nicotine reduces the ability of neutrophils to destroy invading bacteria. As smoking makes our neutrophils less effective, our susceptibility to bacterial infection increases. The risk of infection after foot surgery is up to four times higher for smokers compared to nonsmokers.

Cigarette smoke chemicals also affect the way the body interprets pain signals. This may explain why smokers report more postoperative pain and are more likely to suffer from severe pain after surgery that can become chronic.

Smoking is risk factor for postoperative infection and pain, but it is a risk factor that you have the power to modify. If you smoke, you have the option to stop now. Even smokers facing surgery can significantly mitigate their surgical and postoperative risks if they stop smoking for four to six weeks before surgery and through recovery. Although we would encourage patients not to smoke up to the day of a surgery, those smokers can also still improve their surgical outcomes if they stop smoking right after surgery and through recovery.

When it comes to smoking, your choices do control your risks. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, make 2015 the year that you talk with your doctor about finding the resources to help you quit. A smoke-free start this year is a great way to ensure a brighter, healthier future.

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