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Family Foot & Ankle

Smoking Isn’t Just Bad for the Lungs — It Hurts Feet, Too

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Although smoking rates have been declining for years, our neighborhood unfortunately remains one of the most addicted in the nation—according to 2013 Gallup poll, Kentucky ranked first and Ohio ranked fifth in the U.S. in terms of percentage of the population who smoke.

The effects of smoking on the heart, lungs, even nails and teeth are well documented and widely known among the general public; while just as serious, the effect on feet is far less publicized. We see this in our office all the time: most smokers naturally link their habit to symptoms like anxiety, shortness of breath, or chest pain, but they’re often surprised (even shocked!) when we tell them their leg pain and numbness are likely related—and that it even could cost them a leg!

Smoking is strongly correlated with the development of circulatory problems in legs and feet, such as peripheral artery disease (PAD) and Beurger’s disease. It causes plaque to build up in the walls of arteries and can also cause blood vessels to swell, leading to decreased circulation and/or clotting.

Poor circulation in legs lead to a whole host of problems, ranging from minor intermittent cramps to severe pain when walking or standing to tissue to gangrene. If not addressed, ultimately tissues can become severely infected or even die, requiring surgery to salvage a limb or an outright amputation. Other symptoms can include skin that is cold to the touch, shiny or discolored skin, hair that grows slowly, sores that won’t heal or go away, and leg numbness or weakness.

Obviously, we don’t want you to get to the point where you’re in serious pain, and we definitely don’t want you to lose a limb (or for that matter, suffer a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or many of the other common consequences of smoking not related directly to our area of specialty). We know you’ve heard it a million times, but here’s one more: if you currently smoke, by far the best thing you can do for yourself is quit.

You don’t have to take on quitting alone. We urge you to speak with your primary physician about quitting, and if you notice any pain, weakness, or other problems with your feet and legs, please schedule an appointment with us immediately. We may be able to put together a plan to help you stay on your feet and keep the problem from getting worse—before it’s too late. Request an appointment online or dial 888-689-3317.

Dr. Cynthia Miller
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Dr. Cynthia Miller is a board certified podiatrist who has been established in the Cincinnati area since 2004.
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