Yesterday I spoke with a patient about some of his current problems and how they related to his many years of cigarette smoking. I have had these discussion many times before, but maybe it’s time to revisit this issue.
The patient was complaining of shortness of breath with activity, and had been a smoker for many years, but was now tobacco free. Surprisingly, his pulmonary function test was normal. He seemed puzzled at this finding. I explained that only about 15% of smokers will get COPD, but the others will not escape. The most common chronic conditions to arise from a long smoking history, other than lung disease and cancers, are diseases of the blood vessels. The three most common diseases are coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, and stroke. The risk of these three diseases begins to decline after 5 years without smoking, but the overall risk remains higher for as much as 30 years after quitting smoking. This is especially true for peripheral vascular disease.
The patient I was speaking to had a history of coronary artery disease with several heart attacks in the past, and clear evidence of heart muscle damage on his most recent sound wave study of his heart, called an echocardiogram.
Keep in mind that lung disease is not the only disease associated with smoking. Even if you do not get COPD, you will not escape and are at serious risk for many other problems, especially those associated with your arterial circulation.