Patients who quit smoking one month to surgery have less complications – WHO

Cigarette smoking
A tobacco smoker used to illustrate the story.

Smokers who quit smoking at least four weeks or more before their surgical operation are more likely to have lower post-surgical complications, a new World Health Organisation (WHO) report has shown.

The UN health agency, in a statement released on its website on Monday, said tobacco smokers are at a significantly higher risk of post-surgical complications than their non-smoking counterparts.

Evidence from the new report revealed that smokers who quit approximately four weeks or more before surgery have a lower risk of complications and “better results six months afterwards”.

The study was co-authored by the WHO, the University of Newcastle, Australia and the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists (WFSA).

Study Details

The study also shows that every tobacco-free week after four weeks (usage) improves health outcomes by 19 per cent, due to improved blood flow throughout the body to essential organs.

It showed that some of the post-surgical complications which can be averted by quitting smoking include, impaired heart and lung functions, infections and delayed or impaired wound healing.

“Patients who quit smoking tobacco are less likely to experience complications with anesthesia when compared to regular smokers,” it stated.

Meanwhile, the Head of Unit, No Tobacco, WHO, Vinayak Prasad, said the report provides evidence that there are advantages to postponing minor or non-emergency surgery “to give patients the opportunity to quit smoking, resulting in a better health outcomes”.

Mr Prasad said the nicotine and carbon monoxide, both present in cigarettes, can decrease oxygen levels and greatly increase risk of heart-related complications after surgery.

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“Smoking tobacco also damages the lungs making it difficult for the proper amount of air to flow through, increasing the risk of post-surgical complications to the lungs,” he said. “Smoking distorts a patient’s immune system and can delay healing, increasing the risk of infection at the wound site. Smoking just one cigarette decreases the body’s ability to deliver necessary nutrients for healing after surgery.”

Also, the Coordinator, Quality of Care, WHO, Shams Syed, said complications after surgery present a large burden for both the health care provider and the patient”.

“Primary care physicians, surgeons, nurses and families are important in supporting a patient to quit smoking at every stage of care, especially before an operation.”

‘No to tobacco’

Tobacco use has been identified as one of the major causes of chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, lung diseases and cancer.

To reduce the burden of the diseases and complications caused by tobacco use, the WHO encourages countries to include cessation programmes and educational campaigns in their health systems to spread awareness and help people to quit smoking.


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