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Smoking and weight-loss surgery


Quitting cigarettes and other tobacco products before surgery can improve the results of your weight-loss surgery.

Most smokers in the United States would like to quit smoking. Most people who have been able to quit smoking have tried to quit without success at least once. Try not to look at past attempts at quitting as failures. Think of them as part of the process of quitting.

Some reasons to quit using tobacco

When used for a long time, tobacco, tar, and nicotine can increase your risk of many health problems. Some of these are:

  • Blood clots and swelling in blood vessels (aneurysms) in the brain, which can lead to strokes
  • Heart problems, including heart failure, chest pain (angina) and heart attacks
  • High blood pressure
  • Poor blood supply to the legs
  • For men, problems with erections
  • Cancer (such as in the lung, mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, and cervix)
  • Lung problems, such as COPD or asthma that is harder to control

Some smokers switch to smokeless tobacco instead of quitting tobacco all the way. But smokeless tobacco still has many health risks. They include:

  • Higher risk of mouth or nasal cancer
  • Gum problems, tooth wear, and cavities
  • High blood pressure and chest pain that get worse

Smoking and weight-loss surgery

After weight-loss surgery, fewer blood vessels will go to the stomach. Tobacco smoke causes blood vessels to become narrow and carry less oxygen. This can increase the risk for ulcers in the stomach and irritation of the lining of the stomach (gastritis). Strictures are also more likely to develop in gastric bypass patients who smoke.

After weight-loss surgery, there is an increased chance of blood clots forming in the legs. These clots may travel to the lungs and may be fatal. Smoking increases the chance of these clots forming.

Smoking decreases the amount of oxygen that reaches your surgical wound. Because of this, your wound may heal more slowly. It is also more likely to become infected. The internal abdominal healing can also be affected by smoking, making an infection or a leak more possible.

All smokers have a higher risk of heart and lung problems. Recovering from surgery will make your whole body, including your heart and lungs, work harder. Smoking makes it more likely that you might get pneumonia.

Making the decision to quit

Most doctors want you to stop smoking cigarettes and using other tobacco products at least 6 to 8 weeks before your weight-loss surgery. Quitting 10 weeks or more before your surgery can lower your risk of problems after surgery even more. Try not to be discouraged if you are having a hard time quitting, even if you have smoked for a long time.

Quitting tobacco is hard, especially if you are trying to do it alone. Look for help from:

  • Family members, friends, and coworkers -- they can support and encourage you.
  • Your doctor. Ask your doctor about smoking cessation medicines.
  • A smoking cessation program -- you have a much better chance of success if you join a program. These programs are offered by hospitals, health departments, community centers, and work sites.

Your doctor may not approve using nicotine gum or patches around the time of your surgery. The nicotine will have a negative effect on how well your surgical wound heals and on your health in general.

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Review Date: 1/30/2018

Reviewed By: John E. Meilahn, MD, Bariatric Surgery, Chestnut Hill Surgical Associates, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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