Cancer Care

6 Lesser-Known Health Effects of Smoking

Cigarette smoking is strongly linked to lung cancer, but that's hardly the only negative health effect this bad habit can have on your body. In truth, smoking affects almost all of your organs, tissues, and systems. It can either directly cause disease or raise your risk of developing certain health conditions.

Here are six of the less-well-known effects of smoking on your health:

1. Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)

The aorta is a large artery that circulates oxygen-rich blood to all areas of the body. Men who smoke are at higher risk of developing a life-threatening bulge -- called an aneurysm -- in the wall of the abdominal segment of the aorta. If this bulge bursts, it can be fatal. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends men over age 65 who have smoked at any time in their lives get a screening to evaluate the health of their abdominal aorta.

2. Bladder Cancer

Smoking tobacco can cause cancer to occur anywhere in the body, including the urinary bladder. If you get bladder cancer because of smoking, you may need surgery to remove tumors from your bladder wall -- or to remove the entire bladder. If your bladder is removed, you will need to wear a plastic pouch outside your body to collect urine.

3. Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate

The health effects of smoking can extend to other people. For instance, babies born to women who smoke are at a higher risk of having a cleft lip or cleft palate (also called orofacial cleft). This condition not only affects your baby's appearance, but also might make it almost impossible for your baby to nurse. Repairing an orofacial cleft requires surgery.

4. Degenerative Disc Disease

If you smoke and experience chronic backaches, you need to realize that your tobacco habit may be affecting your spine health. Smoking can deprive the spinal discs of vital oxygen, which causes those tissues to become unhealthy and unable to do their job of supporting your spine. If you injure a spinal disc, your healing may be negatively affected by smoking, too.

5. Macular Degeneration

Your eyes rely on tiny blood vessels to deliver nutrients to their delicate tissues. Smoking can cause these small vessels to become inflexible, which makes it harder for the eyes to receive the oxygen and other components they need. This may be why smokers are at higher risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, a condition that slowly reduces your field of vision until you go completely blind.

6. Rheumatoid Arthritis

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is considered a cause of rheumatoid arthritis. This disease causes the immune system to attack the connective tissue that lines your joints, leaving your fingers and toes chronically inflamed and painful. Rheumatoid arthritis may cause your fingers to become so deformed that you can no longer use them.

The health effects of smoking reach every organ and tissue in the body. When you smoke, you introduce hundreds of chemicals into your body through your lungs. These substances travel from the brain to the toes. You can reduce your chances of developing a smoking-related condition by quitting today. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss strategies for kicking your smoking habit once and for all.

Posted in Cancer Care

Elizabeth Hanes, RN, BSN, taps her broad journalistic background to craft health and wellness content that inspires, engages, and entertains readers. Her byline has appeared in print and online publications ranging from AntiqueWeek to PBS' Next Avenue. An expert in elderly care issues, Elizabeth won an Online Journalism Award in 2010 in the Online Commentary/Blogging category for "Dad Has Dementia," a piece based on her experience caring for her father. In addition to her bachelor’s of science in nursing, Elizabeth holds a BA in creative writing.

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*This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute health care advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or physician before making health care decisions.