According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking is the foremost preventable cause of death in the US, with over 480,000 deaths each year. Several studies have shown how smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke can damage your health, cause cancer, and affect lung and heart function.
But, smoking cigarettes and cigars also increases your risk of developing vein problems like varicose veins or spider veins. When it comes to vein health, prevention is always better than a cure. If you’re at risk of vein problems, your doctor will suggest that you reduce or quit smoking.
So how does smoking damage your veins? Here is a deep dive into what smoking does to your veins and what causes varicose veins.
What Does Smoking Do to Your Veins?
Harmful chemicals found in cigarettes can constrict your veins. Your veins become narrow, resulting in restricted blood flow and increased blood pressure. Poor circulation prevents blood from flowing back to the heart, causing the blood to accumulate in your leg veins. This results in twisted and bulging varicose or spider veins.
Smoking can narrow, harden, and thicken the walls of your veins, causing insufficient blood flow in your arms or legs. Restricted blood flow due to smoking can also result in the formation of blood clots in your veins. Clotting can cause complications such as deep vein thrombosis. You may also develop symptoms such as pain, discomfort, heaviness, numbness, discoloration, and venous ulcers in your lower legs.
Cigarette smoking also increases carbon monoxide levels in your blood, decreasing oxygen levels and weakening your blood vessels. Low levels of oxygen trigger inflammation and damage the walls of your veins. It prevents healthy circulation and causes the pooling of blood, which results in varicose veins.
What Are the Diseases You Can Develop From Smoking?
If you have certain risk factors and a family history of cardiovascular problems, it’s best to avoid smoking. Smoking can cause severe health conditions, which can be difficult to treat. These are some diseases that you can develop from smoking:
Smoking is a major risk factor of atherosclerosis, as it affects your heart, narrows your blood vessels, and restricts blood circulation. Atherosclerosis occurs when there is a buildup of plaque in your arteries. As the disease progresses, your blood vessels get blocked due to the plaque. The blockage prevents proper blood flow and leads to the following symptoms:
- Chest pain/discomfort or angina
- Pain in your arms, legs, and places where your artery is blocked.
- Shortness of breath
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Confusion, if the blockage prevents circulation to your brain
- Leg muscle weakness due to insufficient blood flow
If you have atherosclerosis and smoke often, you may develop a condition known as peripheral vascular disease or peripheral artery disease. Poor circulation leads to muscle pain in your legs and thighs, known as claudication. It also causes discoloration and ulcers or open wounds on your legs that don’t heal easily. These symptoms are collectively called “smoker’s leg.”
Coronary artery disease
If atherosclerosis is left untreated, it progresses to coronary artery disease. The coronary arteries that carry blood to your heart get blocked because of plaque buildup. The blockage limits or stops the blood supply to your heart. You may experience the following symptoms:
- Chest pain or angina
- Cold sweat
- Pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder
- Shortness of breath
- Blood clots
- Heart attack or heart failure
Buerger’s disease is common among people who smoke. It is caused by chronic inflammation or swelling of the arteries and veins in your legs and feet. The swelling restricts normal blood flow and can cause clots in your blood vessels. Poor circulation and lack of oxygen and nutrients can lead to tissue damage. In extreme cases, it can cause gangrene in the hands or feet and may require amputation.
People with Buerger’s disease experience the following symptoms:
- Pale, red, or bluish coloration in fingers or toes
- Cold hands or feet
- Pain or burning/tingling in your hands or feet
- Pain in your legs, ankles, or feet when walking
- Skin changes or painful sores on the fingers or toes
Varicose veins and spider veins
What causes varicose veins or spider veins is the increased blood pressure in narrow, restricted veins. Varicose veins usually occur superficially or near the skin’s surface.
Veins pump your blood against gravity and toward the heart using valves. When the vein becomes narrow, the valves get weakened or damaged. This causes the blood to collect in the veins. The veins twist, protrude, harden, and appear bluish and unsightly. You may also experience the following symptoms of varicose or spider veins:
- Pain and discomfort in your legs
- Heaviness in your legs
- Burning, soreness, cramping, or swelling in your lower legs
- Increased pain on sitting or standing for long durations
- Itching near your affected veins
- Skin discoloration around your affected veins
When you smoke, your veins are more prone to constriction and damage. If you have risk factors of varicose veins, smoking can worsen the symptoms. It can also lead to further complications like restricted blood flow to your heart, blood clots or DVT, and ulceration or open wounds.
If you are concerned about your varicose veins, visit a vein specialist. They can advise you about how to prevent varicose veins. They will also identify various treatment options to remove spider veins or varicose veins and relieve painful symptoms.
Consult a Vein Specialist Today
Smoking affects not only those who do it but also those who inhale secondhand smoke. It is harmful to your health and can damage your organs and veins. If you have a family history or other risk factors of vein problems and smoke regularly, you may want to consider reducing or quitting cigarette smoking altogether to avoid complications.
You can also seek a vein specialist’s advice if you’re experiencing any of the abovementioned symptoms of varicose or spider veins. Share your concerns with a vein specialist near you using My Vein Treatment’s tailored vein specialist locator tool. Consult a vein specialist in your area to learn more about the best prevention and treatment options for your vein problems.