Health Watch -- Heal Faster

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.

Do you have surgery scheduled soon? If so, now would be a good time to quit smoking.

We already know that smoking is a health risk that can lead to cancer and heart disease. But smoking also affects your body's ability to heal itself. Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say that can be a big problem when it comes to surgery.

Dr. Rod Rohrich, UT Southwestern's chairman of plastic surgery, says that smoking not only reduces the body's capacity for wound healing, it also raises the risk for complications after surgery.

The chemicals in tobacco smoke interfere with the filtering mechanism in the lungs, so that there's less oxygen in the blood. Smoking also reduces blood flow. That means there's less oxygen-rich blood flowing to tissues throughout the body. Blood flow and oxygen are essential for the healing process, and without that oxygen-rich blood, you won't heal as well or as quickly.

You can't really plan ahead for emergency surgery, but Dr. Rohrich says that if you've got elective surgery -- such as plastic surgery -- scheduled, you can improve your results by stopping smoking four to six weeks before your surgery. Your body will then be healthier and better prepared for surgery. You shouldn't go back to smoking for about five weeks after your surgery, so your body has a chance to recover. Of course, it's best for your overall health if you don't go back to smoking at all.