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Smoking is a Major DVT Risk Factor: Here’s What You Should Know

Smoking is well-known for causing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, and many other cancers. But you may not know there’s another dangerous side effect of smoking, and that’s the harm it inflicts on your heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular system).

How harmful is it? Smoking causes 1 in 4 deaths due to cardiovascular disease.

Kishore K. Arcot, MD, FACC, at Memphis Vein Center, specializes in preventing and treating the full scope of cardiovascular diseases. Here, he focuses on just one blood vessel complication directly associated with smoking: deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

How smoking raises your risk for DVT

When you inhale cigarette smoke, you introduce thousands of toxic and cancer-causing chemicals into your body. These chemicals gradually cause changes that damage your organs and your health.

Your risk of developing DVT (a blood clot in leg veins) rises when you smoke because the chemicals — including nicotine in e-cigarettes — lead to the following problems.

Smoking boosts blood clotting

Platelets are tiny cells in your bloodstream that migrate to injured areas and stop bleeding by forming a blood clot. After the injury heals, the clot breaks down, and blood flow returns to normal.

When you smoke, the toxic chemicals change platelets, making them sticky and prone to clumping and clotting, even when you don’t have an injury.

Nicotine also increases the number of platelets. Having more sticky platelets increases the odds of DVT and also makes clots develop faster. Faster clotting amplifies the impact of the next side effect, slow-flowing and thickened blood.

Smoking slows blood flow

Many chemicals in cigarettes, including nicotine, change your blood chemistry. As a result, your blood thickens, slowing its flow through blood vessels.

Smoking also damages heart muscles (and other structures in the heart), which reduces blood flow from your heart to your body. 

Slow circulation and thickened blood are among the top causes of DVT. Unfortunately, the slower blood flows, the thicker it gets, creating a spiraling effect that further raises the risk for DVT.

Smoking leads to blocked vessels

The chemicals inhaled from cigarettes also damage blood vessel walls. This damage makes it easier for cholesterol to stick to the wall and form plaque, leading to hardened and blocked arteries (atherosclerosis).

Though DVT affects veins and atherosclerosis develops in arteries, having arterial disease is associated with DVT. 

Smoking causes other problems in your cardiovascular system, including:

These changes lead to heart and blood vessel disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Learn the signs of DVT

Learning the signs of DVT allows you to seek early treatment, when we can use medications to dissolve the clot and prevent future clots from forming.

Without treatment, the DVT can rupture, sending pieces through your bloodstream and into your lungs, where they can block blood flow and cause a deadly pulmonary embolism.

Be aware of the following DVT symptoms:

DVTs usually develop in the lower leg but may appear in the thigh. About half of all patients experience leg pain, while nearly three out of four have leg swelling.

Identify risk factors beyond smoking

Smoking is a major contributor to DVT, but it’s not the only issue that raises your risk for DVT. For example, sitting for long periods, having surgery, or sustaining a vein injury increase the odds of developing DVT.

Whether you have symptoms or you’re worried and want to assess your risk for DVT and learn preventive steps you can take, we can help. Call us at Memphis Vein Center or request an appointment online to get help for DVT.

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