Health Watch -- Surgical Healing

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

If you're planning to have surgery in the near future, now is the time to get your body ready.
There's one thing you can do for yourself to help your body heal from surgery: stop smoking. That was the conclusion of researchers in Denmark, who found that there was a big difference between non-smokers - including smokers who had quit - and smokers when it came to wound healing.

The researchers studied a group of volunteers, including smokers and nonsmokers. Some of the smokers were allowed to keep smoking, while others quit with the help of a nicotine patch. Some of the group who quit received a placebo patch without nicotine. Doctors made small incisions, which were closed with sutures, at various stages after the smokers quit.

People who had never smoked had significantly fewer complications than the smokers did. Only 2 percent of the nonsmokers developed infections, while 12 percent of the smokers did. None of the nonsmokers' wounds ruptured, while 12 percent of the smokers had ruptured wounds. After four weeks of not smoking, with or without a nicotine patch, former smokers had infection rates similar to nonsmokers.

Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say smoking reduces blood flow to tissues, so they don't get as much of the oxygen that's vital for healing. Dr. Rod Rohrich, UT Southwestern's plastic surgery chairman, suggests that patients quit smoking four to six weeks before surgery and abstain from smoking for about six weeks after surgery.