Despite the evidence about the dangers of smoking, more than 34 million people still light up. If you’re one of them, you probably know that smoking fills your lungs with tar-like soot and increases your risk for heart disease and lung cancer, but you may not realize what smoke does to your veins.
In this blog, our team of specialists at Rockland Thoracic & Vascular Associates takes a deeper dive into the direct impact smoking has on your veins and what you can do to stop and even reverse the damage.
We can evaluate your veins and identify any problems that may require treatment. Meanwhile, we encourage you to stop smoking immediately to avoid the consequences to your veins and other vital body parts.
What smoke does to your veins
The smoke you inhale from a cigarette, cigar, or any other tobacco product, contains harmful chemicals. The nicotine and carbon monoxide directly affect your heart, making it work harder to pump blood. The extra burden means it needs more oxygen to do its job, but the carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood.
But these chemicals don’t only affect your heart, they damage the walls of your arteries and veins, creating a perfect environment for plaque and fatty deposits to stick to the walls and narrow the passages, a condition called atherosclerosis. Your heart faces yet another obstacle and has to pump even harder to get blood through.
Smoking also increases the amount of low-density lipids (bad cholesterol) and decreases the amount of high-density lipids (good cholesterol) in your blood. This shift changes the viscosity of your blood, making it thicker and sludgy — a recipe for blood clots and blockages that may lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Complications of smoke-damaged veins
Ideally, your heart pumps out oxygen-rich blood, and your arteries deliver it throughout your body. Your veins transport the oxygen-depleted blood back to your lungs and heart to pick up a fresh supply of oxygen and start the process over.
But if your veins are damaged by smoke, you’re susceptible to various vein diseases and conditions, such as:.
Blood traveling from your feet back up to your heart has to work against gravity, and healthy veins are critical to the journey. If smoking has weakened your veins’ walls and damaged the one-way valves inside them, blood may begin to pool, especially in your legs.
The pooled blood causes the veins to show through the skin and sometimes even bulge out, a condition called varicose veins. Although not typically a cause for concern, these visible veins can be unsightly and tender.
Deep vein thrombosis
Like varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis forms when the vein walls have been damaged, but these veins aren’t visible through the surface of the skin. They’re deeper in the interior of your legs and pose a serious risk of blood clots.
If a blood clot breaks into pieces and travels to your lung — an event called a pulmonary embolism — it can be life-threatening.
Chronic venous insufficiency
Smoke-damaged veins lead to chronic venous insufficiency, a term that describes the state of persistently poor blood flow.
It can cause your legs to swell, cramp, and form skin ulcers. Your legs may feel heavy, achy, and warm to the touch. Common symptoms also include taut and discolored skin.
Because smoking elevates your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, these can build up in your arteries and cause hardening and narrowing called atherosclerosis or arteriosclerosis.
Carotid artery stenosis
If atherosclerosis happens in the artery that supplies blood to your brain, it’s called carotid artery stenosis, and it may lead to a stroke.
Another vessel that can cause major problems if damaged from smoking is your aortic artery. It’s the largest vessel in your body. It travels from your heart to your abdomen, branching off along the way to supply other body parts.
If this artery becomes damaged and it bulges out, it may lead to internal bleeding and a severe, life-threatening rupture.
Save your veins — and your life
The good news is that when you quit smoking, the benefits are significant. Over time, your risk for coronary disease and cancers drops dramatically.
Exercise, losing weight, and eating a healthy diet can also support your vascular health, but if smoking has already done some damage, we can help repair your veins and get the blood flowing freely again.
To schedule an appointment to evaluate your veins, contact us today. We have an office in Englewood, New Jersey, and offices in these New York locations: Pomona, Goshen, Fishkill, and the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.