My patients often tell me that looking after one’s health is complex. With symptoms, risks, diagnoses and treatments to think about, it is often difficult to keep track of the information that directly affects your well-being. Fortunately, not all health advice needs to be complicated. Often, one change in lifestyle can have big benefits to the way you feel and to your quality of life. By far, the most important and simple advice for improving your health today is quit smoking.
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 45 million Americans smoke. That translates to 24% of men and 18% of women. It stands to reason that virtually every smoker in this country is aware that smoking is bad for health. Warnings are printed on cigarette cartons and campaigns to help people quit are up and running. My concern as a physician, however, is that smokers are not always aware of the specific negative effects of smoking. Let’s take a look at these ill effects, which research has proven many times over.
Smoking and Cancer
Overall, tobacco use is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths in the United States. One of the chief causes of smoking-related deaths is lung cancer. This form of cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women. Lung cancer death is linked to smoking a majority of the time—90% of lung cancer deaths in men and 80% in women are the result of smoking.
Lung cancer is highly preventable, but if people continue smoking the outlook is not good. In the past year, 215,000 new cases of lung cancer were diagnosed and 162,000 deaths due to the disease were reported (In most cases, people who died were diagnosed in previous years).
Cigarette smoke is a carcinogen, or a cancer-causing agent. Putting this toxic substance into the body is a major cause of not only lung, but throat, bladder, mouth, larynx (voice box) and esophageal cancers. It is linked to cancer of the pancreas, cervix, kidneys and stomach, as well as some types of leukemia. Overall, smoking accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths.
Smoking and Heart Disease
Cigarette smokers are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than non-smokers. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. If everyone quit smoking today, I think this sobering statistic could change. Smoking reduces circulation by narrowing blood vessels and arteries, leading to peripheral vascular disease. Smoking also doubles a person’s risk for stroke.
Reproductive and Other Effects
Most people know that pregnant women should not smoke. It is linked to risk for premature delivery and infant death. Many women, however, are not aware that smoking may also impact the ability to conceive. Evidence shows that women who smoke have more difficulty getting pregnant. They also may shorten their reproductive years, as smoking can lead to early menopause. If a smoker does become pregnant, her baby is at greater risk for stillbirth and low birth weight.
The problems with smoking for women do not end with pregnancy. One great concern for women as they age is osteoporosis and low bone density. Postmenopausal women who smoke have a greater risk for hip fracture than those who never smoked.
Healthy Answers To Help You Quit Smoking!
It is not easy to quit smoking. Most people know they should quit and have often tried many times to do so. Here is my best advice: keep trying! There are many methods, from nicotine gum to group meetings that offer support to would-be quitters. Talk to your doctor about quitting and research these methods on your own. I hope that learning about the negative effects of smoking will drive you to action today.
There are plenty of changes you can make right now get started on your journey to becoming cigarette-free. The American Heart Association has put together an excellent list of tips that I share with my own patients:
• Keep busy doing things that make it hard to smoke, like working in the yard, washing dishes and being more active.
• Fight the urge by going to places where smoking isn’t allowed and staying around people who don’t smoke.
• Avoid situations that tempt you to smoke, like drinking coffee or alcohol.
• Find a substitute to reach for instead of a cigarette. Try a hard candy.
• Don’t give up if you smoke a cigarette. Just resolve not to do it again.
• Remind yourself that you’re likely to feel better if you stop smoking.
• Tell family members and friends that you need to quit smoking and need their support. If your husband, wife, son or daughter smokes, ask them to quit with you.
Make 2009 the year you kick the smoking habit for good. Here’s to your health!
Photo Credit: Bill Longshaw