Smoking Affects More Than Your Lungs

Smoking goes beyond the lungs to affect the body from head to toe

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

Lung cancer and emphysema are usually at the top of the list of smoking risks, but there are many more ways smoking can harm the body.

Nicotine has been likened to heroin for its strength of addiction, which helps explain why people continue to smoke despite the risk of lung cancer. Lung damage is far from the only health concern, however. Here are a few of the lesser-known risks associated with smoking.

How Smoking Harms the Heart

The risk of heart and vascular disease associated with smoking is almost as well known as its effect on the lungs. Smokers are at much greater risk for strokes and heart attack than nonsmokers are.

Smoking damages blood vessels, making them thicken and grow narrower, which in turn makes the heart beat faster and blood pressure go up. These processes increase the risk that blood clots can form and eventually break off, causing a stroke or heart attack.

"Smoking isn't just a problem because it causes lung cancer ... it's a risk factor in the development of heart disease too. In fact, smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States, and on average, smokers die more than a decade earlier than non-smokers," said Christopher Magovern, MD, attending cardiothoracic surgeon at the Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute at Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, NJ.

"As a heart surgeon, I literally see the effects of smoking every day in my operating room ... you can't imagine how different the appearance is of smokers' lungs compared with non-smokers," Dr. Magovern said.

The good news, according to the Mayo Clinic, is that stopping smoking reduces your risk of a heart attack by 50 percent after just one year.

Beyond Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the first form of cancer that comes to mind in relation to smoking, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if no one in the United States smoked, one third of all cancer-related deaths would not happen. Here are just some of the organs that may develop cancer as a result of smoking:

  • Trachea
  • Stomach
  • Pancreas
  • Throat, tongue, soft palate and tonsils
  • Liver
  • Larynx
  • Kidney
  • Esophagus
  • Colon and rectum
  • Cervix
  • Blood (acute myeloid leukemia)
  • Bladder

Smoking Goes Bone Deep

Smoking can cause stained teeth, bad breath and wrinkles, but it also can put you at a greater risk for osteoporosis. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, smoking is one of the controllable risk factors for the condition. Osteoporosis causes a loss of bone mass that can lead to broken bones as well as height loss and a curving spine.

Smoking Can Contribute to Diabetes

Smoking increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes because it increases insulin resistance. People with type 2 diabetes have high blood sugar because their bodies don’t effectively use insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. According to the CDC, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is as much as 40 percent higher for active smokers than nonsmokers.

For people who have type 2 diabetes, smoking can speed the progression of the disease and increase complications like kidney disease.

Infertility and Impotence

The Mayo Clinic says that smoking lowers a woman’s chance of getting pregnant as well as carrying a fetus full term.

For men, smoking can lead to cardiovascular problems that can affect their ability to maintain an erection.

Eye Health

Tobacco smoke contains thousands of toxic chemicals that can increase the risk for cataracts, the clouding of the eye’s lens, which make vision blurry. Smoking also can increase the risk or accelerate the progress of age-related macular degeneration, a small spot near the center of the retina that impairs vision.

Quit Smoking for You and Your Loved Ones

Smoking not only affects the smoker, but also those around them, including family and friends. Quitting smoking today can make you feel better, look better and lower your risk for many associated diseases. Speak with your doctor about the best way to quit smoking today.

Review Date: 
May 6, 2014