We all know that smoking has detrimental effects on our bodies in many ways. As well as significantly increasing the likelihood that you will develop cancer, smoking severely impacts our fitness levels, which can lead not only to heart problems, but also a whole host of other blood and circulatory issues. Although smokers know that the habit will hurt their health, the impact it has on our feet is something few people ever think of, with most assuming that smoking won’t directly affect the feet in any way. In reality, smoking does in fact take its toll on our legs and feet, the reasons for which are outlined below.
Peripheral Arterial Disease
Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is a condition that affects our peripheral arteries i.e. the arteries that are located farthest away from the heart. This means that the hands and feet are the worst hit, with the feet in particular suffering negative consequences. The reason for this is quite simple. The further away from the heart a body part is, the more the heart has to work to pump blood to and from it. Because the feet are the farthest body part from the heart, coupled with the effects of gravity, PAD tends to impact them the most.
You may already know that the more you smoke, the more clogged your arteries will become. The primary cause of this is that the nicotine in cigarettes causes the size of our arteries to decrease, which not only means that the heart has to work harder to get the same amount of blood through, but also that fat is more likely to build up on the walls and clog.
Secondly, when a person smokes, they are inhaling carbon monoxide rather than pure oxygen. We know that carbon monoxide, ‘the silent killer’, can be lethal in large doses, but its effects are still hugely negative when spread out as well. Simply put, less oxygen entering the lungs means the heart has to pump faster to maintain healthy levels. So while your heart is already under extra strain as a result of the narrowed arteries, the blood it is pumping is also of a lower quality.
Thirdly, even less oxygen is absorbed into the lungs as a result of the tar that builds up in our lungs. Although the bulkier tar does not enter through the alveoli in the same way that carbon monoxide does, it covers the lungs, making it harder for oxygen to enter the blood in the first place. These three factors combined make it significantly harder for the body to oxygenate all our different body parts, with the feet being among the worst affected.
Since the feet are far from the first thing people think of when they consider the effects of smoking, connecting problems with the feet to the act can be a difficult thing to do. One of the most persistent problems is that the feet will feel numb and cold, while the lower legs will feel sore. These are both a result of reduced circulation in the area. This reduced circulation also makes the feet more susceptible to problems like broken skin and ulcers, which will heal noticeably slower than usual. The colour of the feet may also change to a combination of yellow and blue patches, while at the same time the feet will appear more pale overall. A less noticeable symptom is that the level of hair and nail growth will decrease, so if you think your feet are affected by smoking, this may be the most telling symptom.
All of these factors combined make the feet considerably less healthy for smokers than for non-smokers. Over time, the issue can become quite serious, as ulcers can become infected and gangrenous as the body struggles to heal. Alternatively, the reduced blood flow over time could mean that amputation is necessary.
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