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Patient education: Harmful health effects of smoking (The Basics)

Patient education: Harmful health effects of smoking (The Basics)

Why should I worry about smoking? — Smoking is extremely bad for your health. It can cause health problems that you have to deal with throughout your life. It can also shorten your life. Smoking has harmful effects on the health of people around you, too, including children.

People become addicted to smoking because of a harmful chemical called "nicotine" that is found in cigarettes. But smoking releases many other toxic substances into your body, too. These include:

Carbon monoxide – This is a poisonous gas that gets into your blood when you smoke.

Tar – This is a sticky substance that has many cancer-causing chemicals. It sticks to the inside of your lungs and makes it hard to breathe.

Cancer-causing metals – These include lead, arsenic, and nickel.

Harmful chemicals – These include ammonia, butane, formaldehyde, and many others.

Smoking is most harmful to your heart and lungs. But it affects every part of your body. It changes how you look and sound, and how well you can taste and smell.

How often you smoke and how long you have smoked are the 2 biggest factors in how much damage smoking will do to you. But even smoking every once in a while is very bad for your health.

Even if you do not smoke, you can still have negative health effects from being around:

Secondhand smoke – This means the smoke that people breathe in when they're near a person who is smoking.

Thirdhand smoke – This is means the chemicals that are left behind in a home, building, or car when people smoke inside. It can stay on carpets, walls, and other surfaces for a long time. When people come into contact with these things, they are exposed to some of the same chemicals as people who smoke.

Does smoking cause cancer? — Yes. Smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer, which is very difficult to treat.

Smoking (and using other forms of tobacco) also increases the risk of other types of cancers. These include:

Mouth cancer

Bladder cancer

Esophageal cancer

Throat cancer

Kidney cancer

Liver cancer

Stomach, colon, and rectal cancer

Pancreatic cancer

Cervical cancer

Blood cancers, including leukemia

Skin cancer

What other health problems can smoking cause? — Smoking affects your entire body, including:

Your lungs – If you smoke, you are more likely to have lung problems, such as:

Lung infections, like pneumonia or bronchitis

Lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD")

Asthma

Your heart – Smoking can harm your heart. It can:

Cause heart disease and stroke

Make you more like to have high blood pressure

Make you more likely to get blood clots

Decrease the blood flow to all of your body

Your digestive system – Smoking increases the risk of problems with your digestive system, including:

Your body making more stomach acid than normal – This can cause sores called "ulcers" in your stomach or intestines. You might also have heartburn, which is caused by acid reflux. This is when stomach acid flows back up to your throat.

Crohn disease – The symptoms can include diarrhea, belly pain, feeling tired, weight loss, and fever.

Your bones – Smoking is bad for your bone health. If you smoke:

Your bone-forming cells don't grow as fast – This can lead to weaker bones (called "osteoporosis").

You might have a greater risk of breaking bones.

Broken bones take longer to heal.

You are more likely to have low back pain and arthritis.

Your skin – Smoking affects how your skin looks and feels. It can:

Make you look older than you are – Smoking can lead to more wrinkles around your eyes and mouth, and overall thinner skin.

Increase your risk of psoriasis – This is a condition that can make your skin dry, itchy, and flaky.

Stain your fingers and fingernails yellow

Your eyes – Smoking increases your risk of:

Cataracts – This is an eye problem than makes your vision blurry or cloudy.

Age-related macular degeneration – This is an eye problem that makes the center of your vision look blurry.

Your mouth and teeth – If you smoke:

Your teeth can be stained yellow or brown by the smoke.

You have a higher chance of getting gum disease. Gum disease can cause your teeth to loosen and fall out.

Your sense of taste and smell can start to go away.

Your breath smells bad.

Your brain – Smoking can:

Lead to nicotine addiction

Affect your mood in a negative way

Make you more likely to have depression than people who do not smoke

Make you more likely to have a stroke

Your sexual and reproductive health – Smoking can cause problems with sex:

For males, this can include trouble getting or keeping an erection.

For females, smoking might make it harder to get pregnant. It can also cause you to go through menopause (when monthly periods stop) earlier than usual. For females who are older than 35, many hormonal forms of birth control like the pill are not safe if you smoke. These forms put you at risk for heart attack and stroke.

What if I have diabetes? — If you smoke and have diabetes, it might be harder for you to keep your blood sugar under control. Smoking also increases the risk of problems that can happen in people with diabetes, like heart disease.

Smoking can also make people more likely to get diabetes.

What if I have children? — If you smoke, your children:

Are more likely to start smoking

Can breathe in your secondhand smoke, which can harm them

Most people who smoke start before the age of 18. It is important to tell your children about the harmful health effects of smoking.

What if I am pregnant? — Smoking can be very dangerous for a developing baby. If you smoke while you are pregnant, it increases the chances of:

Ectopic pregnancy – This is when a fertilized egg starts growing outside of the uterus. This is extremely dangerous. If you have an ectopic pregnancy, your doctor will need to give you medicine or do a procedure to remove the ectopic pregnancy.

Stillbirth – This is when a baby dies before it is born, in the second half of a pregnancy (after 20 weeks) or during labor.

Preterm birth – This is when a baby is born too early.

Problems in the baby – Smoking might increase the chance of some problems babies can be born with, including certain disabilities.

When your baby is born, smoking can:

Cause your baby to weigh less than normal at birth

Make your baby more likely to have health problems

Make your baby more likely to die of sudden infant death syndrome ("SIDS") – This is when an otherwise healthy baby dies for no known reason.

What if I use a form of tobacco other than cigarettes? — Other forms of tobacco include chewing tobacco, snuff, cigars, hookahs or water pipes, electronic cigarettes ("vaping"), and "heat-not-burn" products.

All forms of tobacco come with risks. Avoiding tobacco in all forms is best for your health.

What other problems can smoking cause? — Besides the negative effects to your body, smoking has other harmful effects. Some people have a negative view of people who smoke, and they might be less likely to want to interact with you if you smoke.

Smoking is also very expensive. For example, people in the US who smoke 1 pack a day (20 cigarettes) can spend more than $2000 a year on cigarettes. It can also make your health care costs higher. This is because people who smoke are more likely to have health problems.

What should I do when I am ready to quit smoking? — Deciding to quit is one of the best things you can do for your health and future. While quitting isn't easy, it can dramatically improve your health and help you live longer.

Even if you have smoked for many years, it is never too late to quit. Your body starts to heal as soon as you stop smoking. Quitting smoking will improve your health no matter how old you are, even if you have smoked for a long time.

If you are thinking about quitting, it's a good idea to start by talking with your doctor or nurse. It is possible to quit smoking on your own, without help. But getting help greatly increases your chances of quitting successfully.

More on this topic

Patient education: Quitting smoking (The Basics)
Patient education: Smoking in pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: Secondhand smoke and children (The Basics)
Patient education: Vaping (The Basics)
Patient education: Lung cancer (The Basics)

Patient education: Quitting smoking (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Lung cancer risks, symptoms, and diagnosis (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Lung cancer prevention and screening (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
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