Surgery & Smoking

We all know smoking causes cancer, heart disease, and lung disease. But did you know that smoking causes problems after surgery, too? It's true!

Smoking harms your body's ability to handle the stress of surgery and heal afterwards.

The good news is that quitting even a day or two before surgery — and staying quit afterwards — can help your body heal better. Having surgery is a great reason to quit. The information and support here on EX can improve your chance of success.

How does smoking affect people having surgery?

  • Smoking weakens your immune system. This means your surgical wounds are less likely to close, less likely to heal well, and more likely to become infected.
  • If you smoke, you have a higher chance of heart attack, stroke, sepsis, shock, and death after surgery compared to non-smokers.
  • If you're having bone or joint surgery, your bones will take longer to heal than a non-smoker. If you're having plastic surgery, you have a higher chance of scarring. If you're having breast surgery, you have a greater chance of losing your implants than a non-smoker.
  • If your child is having surgery, it’s important to stop smoking around their surgery. Children have more problems after surgery if a parent smokes.

How does stopping smoking help me after surgery?

Stopping smoking improves your body's ability to heal itself immediately.

  • Within a day or two after you quit, your body can bring more oxygen to cells and your blood flow improves. This makes it easier for healing to occur.
  • Three to six weeks after stopping, your body's defenses against infection improve. All these changes help you avoid problems after surgery.

One study looked at patients having heart bypass surgery. Smokers had more than twice as many heart and lung problems than non-smoking patients after surgery. On the other hand, patients who had stopped smoking a month before surgery had no more complications than patients who had never smoked. You can expect fewer problems if you stop smoking 3-4 weeks before other types of surgeries, too.

How can I quit smoking if I’m having surgery soon?

Many people use their surgery as a good time to quit. And, there’s no down-side to quitting before surgery. Quitting before surgery makes a difference in your body's ability to heal, even if it is only a day or two before.

There are lots of ways to go about quitting. You have the best chance of quitting if you use medications and create a plan to change your smoking behavior. Social support can also improve your chance of success, whether that is family members and friends, or the EX Community.

You can also learn more about quitting around your surgery by watching this video from Mayo Clinic.

Other Health Issues and Benefits of Quitting