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Smokers are at significantly higher risk than non-smokers for post-surgical complications according to a new study.

The study conducted by the University of Newcastle, Australia, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists showed that tobacco smokers are at greater risk of impaired heart and lung functions, infections and delayed or impaired wound healing post surgery

The study also revealed that smokers who quit approximately four weeks or more before surgery have a lower risk of complication and better results six months afterwards. Additionally, for every tobacco-free week after four weeks will improve health outcomes by 19%, due to improved blood flow throughout the body to essential organs.

According to the researchers, nicotine and carbon monoxide, both present in cigarettes, can decrease oxygen levels and greatly increase risk of heart-related complications after surgery. Smoking tobacco also damages the lungs making it difficult for the proper amount of air to flow through, increasing the risk of post-surgical complications to the lungs.

Smoking distorts a patient’s immune system and can delay healing, increasing the risk of infection at the wound site. Smoking just one cigarette decreases the body’s ability to deliver necessary nutrients for healing after surgery.

“Complications after surgery present a large burden for both the healthcare provider and the patient.  Primary care physicians, surgeons, nurses and families are important in supporting a patient to quit smoking at every stage of care, especially before an operation.” said WHO’s Quality of Care, Dr Shams Syed.