When you consider the worst health consequences of habitual tobacco use, the first thing that probably comes to mind is its detrimental respiratory effects. But even though smoking is a well-known cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the toll it takes on your circulatory system is just as damaging.
Here, our seasoned team of board-certified specialists at Vascular Vein Centers explains how smoking harms the vast network of blood vessels that form your circulatory system, including how it increases your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
How smoking harms your circulatory system
Smoking is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and is responsible for one in four CVD-related deaths. Smoking cigarettes — or even routine exposure to secondhand smoke — interferes with the normal functioning of your heart, blood, and vascular systems in ways that significantly increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
The tobacco, tar, and chemicals in cigarettes damage the cells that line your blood vessels, causing them to become swollen and inflamed. This fundamental cellular impairment makes your blood vessels thicker and narrower, increasing your risk of a life-threatening blockage.
- Reduces “good” HDL cholesterol levels
- Fosters plaque buildup in blood vessels
- Elevates triglycerides to unhealthy levels
- Makes blood “stickier” and more likely to clot
These injurious mechanisms make smoking a major risk factor for every form of CVD, from atherosclerosis and peripheral vascular disease (PVD) to coronary heart disease, stroke, and abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). They also make smoking a significant risk factor for DVT.
Smoking is a major risk factor for DVT
Deep vein thrombosis occurs when your blood thickens into a solid clump, forming a clot (thrombosis) in a vein that’s deep inside your body. Although they can develop in any deep vein, most DVTs emerge in the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis.
A clot may form in response to damage of the blood vessel lining, or it may develop because your blood flow has become too sluggish. DVT can also occur if the consistency of your blood becomes stickier and more susceptible to clotting.
Smoking is the one, single risk factor for DVT that can trigger all three of these clot-forming mechanisms at once: blood vessel damage, poor circulation, and sticky, viscous blood.
Here’s why you should care about DVT
DVT can cause a blockage of blood flow in the affected vessel. Although this type of clot can cause sudden leg swelling and pain, it can also occur without symptoms. Even worse, a piece of the clot (embolus) can break free and travel to your lungs, causing a life-threatening medical emergency called a pulmonary embolism (PE).
DVT is the third most common vascular disease after heart attack and stroke, affecting as many as 900,000 Americans each year. If you’re concerned about how your smoking habit — or your exposure to secondhand smoke — increases your chances of having a heart attack or stroke, you should be equally concerned about how it elevates your risk of developing DVT.
A recent study by the American Heart Association found that smokers are more likely to experience a fatal heart attack or stroke in middle age as the first sign of cardiovascular disease. We’d like to bring DVT into the same circle of awareness.
Simply put, if you smoke, you’re more likely to experience DVT, and without prompt care, you’re vulnerable to developing a life-threatening embolism. For about one in four people who have a PE, sudden death is the first symptom that anything is wrong.
Get to know your personal DVT risk today
Various things can increase your risk of developing a clot in one of your deep veins. DVT risk is cumulative, meaning the more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of developing it. In addition to smoking, major risk factors for DVT include:
- Being middle-aged or older; having a family history of DVT
- Having limited blood flow in a deep vein after a surgery
- Long periods of inactivity (extended air or car travel; injury recovery)
- Being overweight; being pregnant or having recently delivered a baby
- Taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or hormone-based birth control
- Having varicose veins or an inherited blood clotting disorder
- Living with a chronic autoimmune disease like lupus or vasculitis
Whether you think you may have DVT or you simply want to assess your risk factors and learn preventive measures, we can help. Our IAC accredited diagnostic ultrasound imaging lab allows us to check for blockages quickly and get you the treatment you need right away.
Call our DVT and Leg Health Hotline at 833-687-6887 today, or use our online booking feature to schedule an appointment at your nearest Vascular Vein Centers office in Orlando, Waterford Lakes of East Orlando, Kissimmee, Lake Mary, The Villages, or Davenport/Haines City, Florida, any time.