Everyone knows that smoking is bad for your health. It increases your risk for nearly every form of cancer, can cause emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and can have a hugely negative impact on your heart and blood vessels, putting you at a higher risk for coronary heart disease among many other issues. However, as anyone who smokes knows, it is a hard habit to quit. While I am empathetic to this struggle, as a Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon, patient safety is my number one concern. Any form of nicotine consumption puts you at risk for complications during and after plastic surgery. This is why I insist that all of my surgical patients quit any nicotine product for at least 6 weeks prior and 6 weeks following their procedure. In addition to putting your health at risk, smoking can ruin your plastic surgery results. Here’s why.
Nicotine & Necrosis
Smoking can lead to a myriad of health problems including:
- Blood clots, aneurism & stroke
- Coronary heart disease
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Poor circulation
- Erectile disfunction
- Chronic bronchitis
However, it’s not good enough to stop smoking and simply replace it with another form of nicotine such as:
- Nicotine gum, patch or lozenges
- Chewing tobacco
This is due to the fact that it’s not simply the smoking that is the problem. It’s also the nicotine that can lead to problems with your skin and with healing such as necrosis.
What is Necrosis?
Necrosis occurs when the blood supply to your skin and tissues becomes compromised. You are at a higher risk of this with plastic surgery than with traditional surgery due to the way that we cut the tissue and manipulate it. In a traditional surgical procedure such as a knee replacement, the incision is straight and vertical. However, in breast augmentation or tummy tuck, for example, I am making lateral incisions to either insert the implant or separate the top layer of your abdominal wall from the lower layers. This is what allows me to deliver the kind of aesthetic result that we both want. In order to ensure safety, plastic surgeons, including myself, constantly monitor blood supply before, during, and after any procedure.
When your blood vessels are healthy, lateral incisions are not high risk. Some vessels are cut during surgery, but others are left intact. This is normal and allows the surgical site to have ample oxygen and blood supply. Nicotine, however, constricts the size of your blood vessels, reducing the amount of blood that they can carry which results in less oxygen to your surgical site. This is not ideal. It’s like cutting off the food supply for your tissues. Without proper nourishment, the skin and tissues don’t fair well. This is necrosis.
How Smoking Can Ruin Your Plastic Surgery Results
If necrosis occurs, the compromised tissue must be removed. Depending on the severity of the tissue damage, this could potentially ruin your plastic surgery results as it may entail:
- Loss of skin on the tummy and/or loss of a nipple depending on your procedure
- Removal of breast implant
- Fat necrosis (death of fat cells), causing hard lumps to form
- Wide, unsightly scars
This is in addition to the severe risks to your health than can occur when you mix nicotine and plastic surgery such as:
- Blood clots
- Heart attack
- Increased pain
Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking Occur Quickly
While quitting smoking, vaping, or chewing nicotine gum may be challenging, the great news is that the health benefits start immediately. Within just 20 minutes of stopping nicotine, your blood pressure drops and your circulation improves. After 8 hours, your oxygen levels return to normal, and by 6 weeks, your blood flow is strong enough to carry enough oxygen to your surgical site so that it’s safe to have plastic surgery. I require patients to continue to refrain from nicotine products for 6 weeks following surgery as we want to do everything possible to help your body heal beautifully. If you don’t think that you can make this commitment to quit nicotine for these 12 weeks then refrain from surgery. It makes no sense to invest considerable time and money into breast surgery, for example, only to risk your health and outcome by continuing to smoke.
To find out more about breast surgery, tummy tuck, or any other surgical or non-surgical procedure with Dr. Sean Doherty at his Boston or Brookline office, contact us today or call (617) 450-0070 to schedule a consultation.