According to the Journal of Wound Care, “there is clear clinical evidence that smokers are more likely to develop postoperative wound-related complications.”

These complications include:

  • Delayed healing time
  • Increased chance of wound infection
  • Increased chance of wound dehiscence (rupture along the incision line)
  • Increased chance of tissue necrosis (irreversible death of the tissue)

You may be curious as to why smoking slows healing and recovery time. While there are numerous reasons, there are two main answers to this question.

First, toxins.

According to the American Lung Association, “There are approximately 600 ingredients in cigarettes. When burned, they create more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many are poisonous.”

These 7,000 toxins are foreign to the body, so the body fights back to eliminate the toxins and heal the damaged tissue. Since smokers' bodies are constantly fighting these toxins, their immune systems are in constant chaos. This day-to-day battle slows the body's ability to heal itself, especially when the body is fighting a battle on two fronts, i.e. fighting the toxins in cigarettes while trying to heal after having surgery.

Think of it like a war between multiple countries. You only have so many troops at your disposal. If two-thirds of your troops are defending your borders from one country and one-third of your troops are defending your borders from another country, where are you vulnerable? On the front with only one-third of your troops, right?

Your body's immune system works the same way. If your body is fighting more than one battle, then it's weakened and at risk. Your body is quite amazing, so your immune system will fight those battles with all its might. But, in the end, your healing process will suffer.

Second, nicotine.

One of the 600 ingredients you inhale while smoking is called nicotine. I'm sure you've heard of it. But what you may not know is that nicotine causes vasoconstriction (constriction or tightening of your veins) in your circulatory system.

What does that mean for your body and its ability to heal? Everything!

You see, when your veins tighten and shrink in diameter, your blood flow slows down and restricts oxygen and nutrients from reaching the site of healing. In turn, this nicotine-induced reaction slows healing time dramatically and causes a cascade of other issues that impedes the body from healing itself properly.

So, what does all this mean for you or a loved one going into surgery?

  1. If you're going into surgery and you're a smoker, we suggest you stop smoking (at least while you're in the recovery process). That way, your body doesn't have to fight more than one battle and run the risk of losing one of them. Instead, your body can focus on healing your postoperative trauma areas and heal them faster with less risk of infection, dehiscence, necrosis, etc.
  2. If you're going into surgery and you're a non-smoker, we suggest you stay away from people who smoke while you're in the recovery process. Second-hand smoke has been shown to lower your body's immune function and slow the healing process.
  3. If you're a smoker and a loved one of yours is undergoing surgery, we encourage you to stop smoking around your healing partner or friend. Doing so will allow that person to heal with less complications. Smoking around your loved one will increase his or her risk of infection and other medical problems.