Why are smokers' lungs longer

Heart, brain and legs in danger

Smoking is an important risk factor for cardiovascular diseases - the "top killers" in the western world. These include heart attacks, strokes and smokers' legs (peripheral arterial disease, pavk). The main cause is the progressive calcification of the vessels (arteriosclerosis). This is a gradual process that develops over the years. Cholesterol, other fats and blood cells are deposited as plaques on the vessel wall. The vessels narrow, they lose their softness and elasticity. This process happens in everyone with increasing age, but in smokers it starts earlier and develops much faster.

The plaques in the vessel walls can break open. As a result, blood platelets (thrombocytes) accumulate and block the vessel. If this happens in the heart or brain vessels, heart attacks and strokes are the result - the most common cause of death in Western countries.

Vascular constrictions are not limited to the heart and brain. Leg vessels can also gradually close. More than 90 percent of all people with a "smoker's leg" are smokers. It starts with pain when walking and increases so much that the leg hurts even when at rest. If the vessels narrow further, a lower leg ulcer can form because the tissue is no longer adequately supplied with nutrients and oxygen. The last measure here is a leg amputation.

The arterial disease often leads to impotence in men.


Oxygen-starved tissues

With every cigarette, smokers inhale carbon monoxide (CO) - a poisonous gas that is also found in car exhaust fumes. The statutory limit for CO in cigarette smoke is 10 milligrams. In the blood, carbon monoxide makes it difficult for oxygen to be absorbed because it binds to the red blood cells (erythrocytes) much more easily than oxygen. This is why about two to 15 percent of the red blood cells in smokers are occupied by CO, in non-smokers it is only one percent. These erythrocytes cannot transport oxygen into the tissue. The body can only partially compensate for this by producing more red blood cells. If less oxygen is transported in the blood, a smaller narrowing of the blood vessels is sufficient to cause pain and tissue damage. The smoke of low-nicotine cigarettes can also contain a lot of CO.


Increased cancer risk

There is a close connection between cancer and smoking. Smoking is one of the few factors that most often causes cancer on its own. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Germany (after cardiovascular diseases). Smoking causes many different cancers. According to the German Cancer Aid, around 25 to 30 percent of all cancer deaths can be directly attributed to smoking. Statistically, anyone who smokes one to nine cigarettes a day has a four times higher risk of dying of lung cancer than a non-smoker. With 10 to 19 cigarettes, the risk is seven times as high. Smoking is responsible for most cases of lung cancer (bronchial carcinoma). It occurs most frequently between the ages of 55 and 60 and is the third most common type of cancer in German men (after prostate and colon cancer). Women also moved up to third place - after breast and colon cancer.

There is a clear dose-effect relationship between cigarettes and lung cancer: the longer someone has been smoking, the more cigarettes are consumed per day and the deeper the smoke is inhaled, the higher the risk of cancer. The tar and nicotine content of the glow stalks also play a role. In addition to lung cancer, other types of cancer are also promoted by smoking. These include cancers of the oral cavity, larynx, esophagus, pancreas, bladder, colon, and cervix.


Skin - quitting smoking makes you beautiful

Smoking also affects the skin. Smokers have more wrinkles than non-smokers and are typically gray and pale. Skin color and wrinkles have a not inconsiderable influence on how people judge one another - especially when it comes to age. The reasons for the skin changes caused by smoking: On the one hand, smoking causes the tiny muscle fibers of the blood vessels to contract and the vessels to constrict. The result is poor blood circulation. This is also the reason why smokers often have cold hands. One cigarette is enough to reduce blood flow to the skin for more than an hour. On the other hand, the protein collagen is broken down faster and built up more slowly through smoking. However, collagen is responsible for the elasticity of the skin - so smokers' skin is flabby and wrinkled. When combined with regular sunbathing, smoking also increases the risk of skin cancer.


Eyes - blocked vision

Smoke is bad for the eyes. The blood vessels of the eye are very sensitive and can be damaged by cigarettes. The substances in cigarette smoke cause a kind of "chemical inflammation" in the conjunctiva, making the eye look bloodshot and itchy. It worsens in many cases if the itching doesn't stop and you start rubbing your eyes.

Eye irritation is nothing compared to the other eye damage that smoking can cause. Smoke damages the retina in the eye, the result is a slow loss of sight. So-called macular degeneration is the main cause of severe visual impairment and blindness in the elderly in industrialized countries. In macular degeneration, the cells of the retina perish. As a result, the reading and recognition of faces are severely impaired. Smokers are more likely to suffer from this condition than non-smokers.


Thrombosis - clotted blood

Smokers are at greater risk of developing blood clots (thrombosis) than non-smokers. Women who use contraceptives (pill) containing estrogen and smoke, in particular, play with fire. The nicotine in the cigarette changes the composition of the blood - it coagulates more easily. Blood clots (thrombus) can form in both narrowed and healthy vessels. This mechanism can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Especially in young women who smoke and use hormonal contraception, blood clots can form in healthy vessels and lead, for example, to leg vein thrombosis.

Blood coagulation requires a close and perfectly timed interaction of blood cells, certain coagulation proteins and the blood vessels. Smoking has an effect on all three components. The blood platelets are activated, the amount of fibrinogen - a coagulation protein - increases and the vessels constrict.

In addition, smokers have more red blood cells - to compensate for the fact that many are poisoned by carbon monoxide. The blood becomes “thicker” and flows more slowly through the vessels - ideal conditions for a blood clot to develop. If the thrombus forms in the heart or brain, it is often fatal.


Immune System - Sick Smokers

Smokers are at greater risk of getting sick and infections because smoking weakens the immune system. There are fewer immunoglobulins in the blood of smokers than in the blood of non-smokers. These are proteins that the body produces to defend itself against foreign substances. Smokers are more likely to get severe pneumonia and blood poisoning than non-smokers. The more and the longer someone smokes, the greater the likelihood that they will become seriously ill.

Smokers' wounds are more infected than those of nonsmokers. This is especially true for people who already have arteriosclerotic vascular changes. Smoking constricts the blood vessels and thus reduces blood flow to the skin. In addition, smokers produce less collagen than non-smokers. These factors multiply each other. And when the wounds have healed, smokers are more likely to leave ugly scars.


Respiratory tract - whistling lungs

Smoking also affects the airways. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a respiratory disease that affects almost only smokers. 90 percent of all people with COPD are smokers or ex-smokers. Chronic bronchitis (inflammation and narrowing of the airways) and pulmonary emphysema (weakening of the lung structure) are summarized under COPD.

COPD is the result of chronic bronchitis. At the onset, the cilia in the airways are paralyzed and the lungs produce excessive mucus. Later the cilia are destroyed and the mucous membrane of the small alveoli disappears completely. The inflamed bronchial mucosa thickens and narrows the airways. The main symptoms are cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is a common complication of COPD.

Smoking and breathing tobacco smoke increase the risk of asthma and the likelihood of an asthma attack, especially in children. According to the BZgA, there is a connection with smoking in more than 70 percent of asthmatics. In Germany alone, the number of asthmatics is estimated at four million people. Cigarette smoke irritates the lungs and makes existing asthma worse. Asthmatics should therefore steer clear of all cigarette smoke - and certainly not smoke themselves.


Teeth - brown biters

The toxic substances from tobacco smoke also damage the oral mucous membranes. This leads to an increased risk of disease in the jaw and face area. Smoking is the most important risk factor for oral cancer, changes in the oral cavity and inflammatory changes in the gums and gums (periodontal disease). In addition, smoking delays wound healing after surgery in the jaw and face area (e.g. tooth extraction) and impairs the success of dental implant treatment. Smoking stains teeth and dentures and causes bad breath.


Secondhand smoke is harmful

But not only active smoking, but also passive smoking makes you sick. The smoke that a smoker inhales is the "main smoke". It is created directly on the mouthpiece of the cigarette. The "secondary smoke" forms both on the mouthpiece and on the burning end of the cigarette - the toxins are distributed in the air if, for example, the cigarette is left in the ashtray. Main and secondary smoke have different chemical compositions, but both contain pollutants. Interestingly, the concentration of pollutants in sidestream smoke is sometimes even higher than in mainstream smoke. Those who do not smoke and live with a smoker have a 30 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Children who are exposed to cigarette smoke every day also live dangerously. They are more likely to have otitis media or respiratory problems such as asthma. Infants whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are more susceptible to allergies. This also increases the risk of asthma. Smoking in the presence of asthmatics can trigger asthma attacks. Children of smokers are also more likely to catch colds. The risk of sudden infant death syndrome is also increased.


Prevention helps

If you are a smoker, ex-smoker or a frequent passive smoker, you should attend the routine check-ups. Cancer, arteriosclerosis, cardiovascular or respiratory diseases can be discovered and treated in good time. If a disease is suspected, a lung function test can show whether there are any respiratory diseases. The only correct precautionary measure is of course to quit smoking yourself. Talk to your doctor about the possibilities of smoking cessation.

It is always worth quitting smoking, at any time! Experts have calculated that ten years after quitting smoking, the risk of lung cancer is back to that of a non-smoker. The risk of a stroke decreases significantly about five years after quitting smoking. And even people with cardiovascular disease lower their risk of heart attacks and strokes if they keep their hands off the glowing stick.

Date: January 20, 2011