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Smoking and Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

Smoking is the greatest single danger to the health of your arteries. It puts you at higher risk for peripheral arterial disease (PAD). PAD is a disease of the arteries in the legs. If you have PAD, it’s likely that other parts of your body are diseased, too. That puts you at high risk for heart attack or stroke.

How can smoking lead to PAD?

Smoking causes swelling and redness (inflammation) that leads to plaque forming. Plaque is a waxy material made up of cholesterol and other particles. It can build up in your artery walls. When there is too much plaque, your arteries can become narrowed and restrict blood flow. This then raises your risk for PAD and blood clots. It also worsens other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. These are things that make you more likely to have artery disease.

What happens if you don’t quit smoking?

  • You have 2 to 4 times the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke as compared with a nonsmoker.

  • You have a greater risk of getting severe PAD, pain in your legs when walking (claudication), dead body tissue due to lack of blood flow (gangrene), or having a leg or foot amputated.

  • You are at greater risk for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). This is a bulge in the aorta, a major artery. It can burst suddenly and be fatal.

What happens if you quit smoking?

  • Your risk for heart attack and stroke drops as soon as you quit smoking.

  • After 1 year of not smoking, your risk for heart attack falls by half.

  • In 5 to 15 years after you quit, your risk for heart attack or stroke is the same as someone who never smoked.

  • Your risk for amputation and other complications of PAD is reduced.

  • Your risk of developing AAA decreases.

Online Medical Reviewer: Anne Fetterman RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Deepak Sudheendra MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2022
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