Around 5.5 million people in the UK smoke, and although people know that smoking is bad for their health, it can be very difficult to quit. Smoking has detrimental effects on the body and this includes the feet.
Smoking causes an increased risk of blood clots in the legs and Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD). PVD happens when plaque builds up in your arteries, which can often affect the arteries that run down your leg to your feet. The arteries become stiff and narrow so the blood has trouble reaching your feet. Blood becomes thicker in smokers as well, that combined with the narrow arteries will result in poor blood flow and circulation.
PVD causes changes in sensation; you’ll get tingling and numbness, as well as an inability to feel pain in your feet. You may experience pain in your legs while walking due to reduced blood flow, and in severe cases you may also feel pain when you rest. It can also result in the foot and leg becoming cold and changing colour. The hair on your legs may stop growing, and your toenails may become brittle. Minor cuts, blisters or sores may be slow to heal, not heal at all or lead to a serious infection due to the body’s decreased ability to send blood flow to the affected area.
In addition to PVD, smoking can cause calluses and cracks in the feet. Smoking breaks down a protein in the skin called elastin, which dries out the skin and leaves it cracked.
If you do smoke, your risk of developing PVD is four times greater than if you don’t. If you have diabetes, which is another common risk factor that can reduce the circulation to the feet, and smoke you are putting your feet at an even higher risk of damage.
Quitting smoking slows down the worsening of PVD in people who already have it, and the circulation can begin to improve in just two weeks. People who give up smoking tend to live longer, have less pain and are more likely to avoid amputation or foot complications. The earlier you quit, the lower your risk of developing symptoms becomes.
If you are a smoker, it is very important to regularly see your podiatrist to make sure your feet aren’t suffering.