The effects of smoking can lead to considerable damage on every organ and system throughout the body, including the blood vessels.

Smoking causes blood vessels to constrict and narrow the arteries which leads to poor circulation and high blood pressure, often resulting in a condition known as PAD (peripheral artery disease), something our cardiothoracic and vascular surgeons treat frequently here at CTVS.  A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that of the over 1,200 PAD patients observed, 90 percent were current or former smokers.

Smoking can also have negative effects on insulin production and blood sugar levels and cause diabetes. According to the CDC, those who smoke are 30 to 40 percent  more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who don’t.

The side effects of PAD and diabetes are very similar.  Both can slowly starve the toes, feet and legs (peripheral parts of the body) of blood and oxygen, which can lead to gangrene and amputation, if left untreated.

How does smoking damage blood vessels and weaken circulation?

Cigarette smoke, and the harmful chemicals found in it, damage blood vessels by:

  • Increasing blood pressure because nicotine is a dangerous stimulant which speeds up heart rate, making it harder for the heart to pump blood through constricted arteries
  • Hardening arteries and causing these life-sustaining passageways to become stiff and narrow
  • Elevating the bad cholesterol (LDL) in your blood and decreasing the good cholesterol (HDL)

Quitting smoking is one of the greatest things you can do for your health and to better control your PAD and diabetes. Research shows that within just 20 minutes of stopping smoking, your heart rate and blood pressure begin to drop.

It is never too late to quit. Resources to help you stop smoking can be found here.

Other ways that our board-certified experts recommend to help manage your PAD and diabetes, and encourage healthy blood flow to your feet and legs (thereby lowering your risk for amputation) include:

  • Maintain a healthy weight, or lose weight, as directed by your physician
  • Make regular exercise a priority, aiming for at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day
  • Eat a well-balanced diet and keep blood sugar and cholesterol levels in check
  • Take all medications as prescribed

In severe cases of PAD or diabetes and when necessary, CTVS offers additional therapies to help restore blood flow to limbs in order to prevent amputation such as foot and leg wound care, minimally invasive surgery using stents, and surgical revascularization.

For questions about any of our cardiac, thoracic, or vascular services, please visit or call us at (512) 459-8753 to schedule an appointment.

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Written by: Jeffrey Apple, MD | Last Reviewed 8 Mar 2024