Of the more than 4,000 chemicals that are emitted by a lit cigarette, 43 are known to cause cancer. Tar can cause cancer in the tissues it reaches, highly addictive nicotine which affects the nervous system and carbon monoxide which reduces the ability of blood to carry oxygen throughout the body are the most dangerous chemicals. When the chemicals come into direct contact with tissues or organs, such as the mouth, throat, or lung, the rate for cancer is from twice to 14 times as high as that for non-smokers. Although most people are well aware of the risk of cancer from smoking, few people realize the damage smoking causes throughout the body’s vascular system.
Smoking and Vascular Disease
Smoking damages the blood vessels and smokers are at risk for all vascular diseases including peripheral arterial disease, stroke, heart attack, abdominal aortic aneurysm and subsequent death.
In a healthy blood vessel, the inner lining of the arteries, known as the endothelium, constricts and dilates with blood flow. Smoking damages the endothelium, making arteries prone to spasms and deposits of diffuse plaque that diminish their ability to dilate properly. This condition is known as atherosclerosis, often called “hardening of the arteries.” Atherosclerosis is a gradual process in which cholesterol and scar tissue build up, forming a substance called plaque that clogs the blood vessels and makes them less elastic.
Smokers are at increased risk for peripheral arterial disease, clogged arteries in the legs, that cause insufficient blood flow to get to the leg muscles. This causes pain, especially when walking and, left untreated, this insufficient blood flow can lead to limb amputation. While this may require angioplasty and stenting to improve blood flow, many people can avoid these procedures and alleviate their symptoms just by quitting smoking and beginning a specific exercise regimen. Smoking makes that big a difference in vascular disease.
Memphis Vascular Center’s Interventional radiologists provide treatment for many smoking-related diseases. Since they are first trained in diagnostic radiology, they use imaging to understand, visualize, and diagnose the full scope of the disease’s pathology and to map out the procedure tailored to the individual patient. Then during the procedure, they image as they go, literally watching and guiding their catheter through the vascular system or through the skin to the site of the problem.
The following are some of the conditions that can be treated by interventional radiologists: