One of the concerns for smokers going into surgery is the potential risk for complications to arise due to increased carbon monoxide in the system, hindering the blood's ability to carry oxygen. Physicians prefer that patients quit smoking before going into surgery, but they often find a hard time getting that to happen.
New research from the University of Western Ontario, and published in Anesthesia and Analgesia, found that receiving a few minutes of counseling from a nurse as well as free nicotine patches could help patients to quit smoking prior to an operation. The results showed that out of 84 patients who received such counseling before surgery, 14 percent quit smoking. Only 4 percent of another 84 patients, who did not receive counseling, chose to quit.
The study noted that cigarette smoking was associated with complications such as "respiratory problems and poor wound healing." Other complications include heart attack, blood clots and pneumonia.
The American College of Surgeons states that quitting smoking about four to six weeks before surgery could potentially decrease the risk of complications by 50 percent. They suggest stocking up on "oral substitutes" such as gum, candy, cinnamin sticks or toothpicks, and provide other resources on helping smokers quit.
The sooner one quits, the better, and even one day can make a difference. “Twelve hours after a person quits, his or her heart and lungs already begin to function better as nicotine and carbon monoxide levels drop,” the American Society of Anesthesiologists states on its website. “It takes less than a day for blood flow to improve, which reduces the likelihood of post-operative complications.”
But quitting smoking a year before surgery could mean that the complications risks for former smokers could be as low as risks for those who've never smoked, another study found.
"Patients are nervous, they're thinking about their health more, they want surgery to be successful,” Dr. Susan Lee, lead author of the University of Western Ontario study, told NPR. “This is a great moment when we can get in there and make a difference."