Smoking Related Illnesses and Diseases
Cancer was one of the first diseases that was conclusively related to cigarette smoking. The first cancer studied, and still the best known, was lung cancer. However, it is now known that smoking is related to cancers in many parts of the body including the: throat, mouth, larynx (voice box), oesophagus, lung, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach, blood (leukaemia) and cervix.
Your risk of getting a smoking related cancer increases with the number of years you have been smoking and the number of cigarettes that you smoke.
Diseases of the Cardiovascular System
Cigarette smoking causes atherosclerosis - the hardening and narrowing of the arteries. This process occurs to some degree anyway as we age, but smoking accelerates the process even for young people. This leads to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, aneurysms of the aorta and peripheral vascular disease, which can lead to amputations of the limbs.
Diseases of the Respiratory System
The lungs of smokers are likely to become damaged. Damage of the lung tissue can lead to diseases such as emphysema, which reduce the capacity of the lungs to extract oxygen from the air we breathe. 90% of cases of emphysema seen by physicians are caused by smoking.
Damaged lungs are also less able to fight infection, which leaves smokers more likely to get infections of the respiratory tract including bronchitis and pneumonia. It should be noted here that expectant mothers who smoke are likely to be causing damage to their unborn baby's lungs.
Smoking and Pregnancy
Smoking affects every stage of the reproductive cycle. As mentioned above, it damages the unborn baby's lungs. The additional damage it causes is summarised below:
- It reduces fertility so it is more difficult to fall pregnant
- It increases complications in pregnancy, such as anomalies of the placenta (eg placenta previa - which usually necessitates a caesarian section, and placental abruption which can lead to premature labour and stillbirth). Your waters are also more likely to rupture pre-term.
- It increases the risk of a low birth weight baby. Low birth weight babies have an increased risk of subnormal development, illness and death. By low birth weight babies, we are not referring to small parents who give birth to genetically lighter but healthy babies. Low birth weight babies are babies that should have been born heavier, but their growth and development in the womb has been stunted by their mother's smoking. One cause of this is the restriction of the blood vessels in the umbilical cord caused by nicotine, meaning that the unborn baby receives less oxygen.
- Babies whose mothers smoke before and after pregnancy are four times more likely to die from cot death (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
Other Smoking Related Health Problems
Smoking harms your health in other ways. By suppressing your immune system you are more likely to suffer from other diseases and infections, including but not limited to:
- Periodontal disease (gum disease leading to tooth loss)
- Brittle bones
- Eye cataracts
- Stomach ulcers
- Erectile dysfunction
- Premature lines and wrinkles