When Should You Stop Smoking Before Surgery?


Patients scheduled for surgery are advised to quit smoking, at least temporarily. The negative effects of cigarette smoke can impact a patient's ability to handle anesthesia, and increase the risk of surgical and post-operative complications. How long a patient abstains from smoking prior to surgery can effect the rate of complications.

Quitting smoking
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According to the Mayo Clinic, smokers scheduled for surgery should quit as far in advance of the scheduled procedure as possible, and abstain from smoking for at least one week afterward.

A patient who quits smoking will experience almost immediate benefits. Nicotine leaves the body within eight to 12 hours. Within 12 to 24 hours, there is a significant decrease in the amount of carbon monoxide present in the body. The presence of nicotine and carbon monoxide both reduce the flow of oxygen to the bloodstream, and increase the chance of a heart attack. By quitting smoking, even on the day of a scheduled surgery, the patient should experience a reduction in levels of nicotine and carbon monoxide, and thereby increase the amount of oxygen getting into the bloodstream.

Between four and eight weeks after quitting smoking, the body’s ability to heal wounds increases greatly.

For smokers who quit 10 weeks prior to surgery, the rate of surgical and post-operative complications is nearly identical to the rate of complications in their nonsmoking counterparts.

Patient with doctor
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In addition to increasing the levels of carbon monoxide in the blood, the nicotine in cigarettes causes the body to require more oxygen. In effect, smoking increases the demand for oxygen, while simultaneously decreasing the supply.

Smoking also damages the lungs. It shrinks the airways and makes the lungs more prone to collapse. This, in turn, increases the risk of infection and pulmonary complications.

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When it comes to quitting smoking, the data is not entirely positive. Studies have shown that a patient who quits immediately prior to surgery may have a greater risk of pulmonary complications than a patient who continues smoking. Doctors are not exactly clear about why this is, but there is speculation that the absence of smoke causes the smoker not to cough as much, which allows mucus and other secretions to build up in the airways. The pulmonary benefits of quitting smoking may take as long as four to eight weeks before notable improvement is realized.

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There are substantial benefits to quitting smoking prior to surgery. Ideally, the patient will quit at least 10 weeks before undergoing a procedure. Oftentimes an impending surgery can provide the impetus a smoker needs in order to kick the habit for good. Quitting smoking will afford tremendous health benefits, not just in the immediate future, but for the rest of the patient’s life.

Recovering from surgery
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