Many physicians tell their patients to give up nicotine – smoking it, chewing it, wearing it as a patch and even vaping it through popular e-cigarettes. The reason behind their advice is the significant health risks associated with using tobacco and other products that contain nicotine. Plastic surgeons also advise their patients to cease using tobacco and nicotine before and after their plastic surgery procedure – in order to protect their health, minimize risks during the procedure and ensure positive post-surgery results.
It is well-known that the use of nicotine products has significant consequences Smoking causes the deaths of half a million Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It also greatly increases the risks of a patient developing cancer and lung diseases; it increases the incidence of cardiovascular disease and stroke and even causes birth defects and low birth weight in babies. Chewing tobacco is also dangerous, upping the risk of oral and mouth cancer, causing periodontal disease and even tooth loss. E-cigarette use, a habit that is becoming increasingly popular, is not safe either, as it also increases the risks of developing periodontal disease and tooth loss, among other health conditions. While wearing a transdermal nicotine patch as a smoking cessation tool does not increase the risk of a patient developing cancer, nicotine in any form has serious health implications, and can impact the heart. The biggest impact of nicotine is its effect on the body’s vascular system and ability to heal.
Nicotine causes the blood vessels to constrict, which restricts the ability of blood to flow through the veins and arteries. When the blood cannot flow through the body, it cannot bring oxygen and other nutrients that the brain, organs and skin need for survival. Skin and other tissue that has just been cut, pulled, or stretched as part of a plastic surgery procedure, especially need blood, oxygen, and nutrients to heal. Limiting these healing components puts the skin, muscle and fat often manipulated during plastic surgery is at risk of dying.
When tissues die, the intended results of the procedure can be compromised, and some patients may find that their procedures were unsuccessful or failed because of their nicotine habits. Patients may experience skin and tissue loss after their surgeries, and also face an increased risk of developing an infection because healing takes longer as a result of nicotine use. Some patients develop fat necrosis, a condition in which their fat cells die off, leaving behind hard, unsightly lumps. Because healing is delayed, surgical scars are usually more prominent. More serious risks include blood clots, heart attack and stroke, all of which can be fatal.
“Patients that use nicotine products and are seeking plastic surgery should quit long before they have their procedure – then visit with a plastic surgeon to determine if they are healthy enough for the procedure,” says Dr. Jack Peterson, a Topeka, Kansas, plastic surgeon. Peterson also advises patients who use nicotine going to wait to have their procedures because general anesthesia can cause a strain on nicotine users. “Nicotine use and smoking are serious complications of surgery, and require an entirely different approach in order to protect the health of the patient,” Peterson explains.
Peterson advises all patients to quit for good, but if the patient is not able to quit entirely, he cautions patients to cease nicotine use for a minimum of six weeks before surgery and to wait at least six weeks after their procedure before starting up again.
“Waiting a minimum of six weeks after the procedure allows the patient to heal, and avoid serious health risks,” says Peterson. “Considering that many patients opt for plastic surgery to look and feel their best, it is a good idea that patients give up their nicotine habit entirely in order to feel and look good from the inside out.”