The Link Between Smoking and Peripheral Artery Disease

The Link Between Smoking and Peripheral Artery Disease

How Does Smoking Lead to Peripheral Artery Disease? 

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a vascular condition characterized by the narrowing or blockage of arteries that supply blood to the limbs, most commonly the legs. It affects millions of people worldwide, and it often goes undiagnosed until it reaches an advanced stage. Smoking is a major risk factor for the development and progression of PAD. It’s detrimental to vascular health and can contribute to the development of PAD in the following ways:


Smoking accelerates the process of atherosclerosis, which is the primary underlying cause of PAD. The harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, including nicotine and carbon monoxide, promote inflammation and oxidative stress in the arteries. This results in the buildup of fatty plaques that narrow the blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the lower extremities.


Vasoconstriction due to atherosclerosis leads to reduced blood flow to the limbs. In the context of PAD, this reduced blood flow can lead to symptoms such as claudication (pain or cramping during walking) and, in severe cases, can contribute to non-healing wounds and tissue damage.


Smoking is known to promote inflammation throughout the body. The chemicals in cigarette smoke trigger inflammation in the vessel walls, promoting the accumulation of fatty deposits. Inflammation can accelerate the progression of atherosclerosis and make PAD symptoms worse.

Reduced Oxygen Supply

Smoking reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood by increasing carbon monoxide levels in the bloodstream. A reduced oxygen supply can worsen symptoms of PAD, such as leg pain.

Impaired Wound Healing

Smoking impairs the body’s ability to heal wounds and can lead to complications in individuals with PAD. Poor wound healing can result in ulcers and non-healing sores on the legs and feet, which can be difficult to treat and may even lead to amputation.

Why is Smoking Bad for Peripheral Artery Disease?

Increased Severity of Symptoms

Individuals with PAD often experience intermittent claudication, a condition characterized by pain and cramping in the legs during physical activity. Smoking worsens these symptoms by reducing blood flow and oxygen delivery, making it even more challenging for individuals with PAD to engage in regular physical activities.

Higher Risk of Complications

Smoking significantly increases the risk of medical complications in PAD patients. Non-healing wounds, infections, and the development of critical limb ischemia (severe blockage of arteries) are more common in smokers with PAD. These complications can lead to a higher likelihood of limb amputation, significantly affecting the quality of life for affected individuals.

Limited Treatment Success

PAD treatment often involves lifestyle modifications, medications, and in severe cases, surgical intervention. However, the effectiveness of these interventions is compromised in individuals who continue to smoke. Smoking disrupts the healing process, reduces the success of surgical and non-surgical procedures, and undermines the benefits of medications aimed at improving blood flow.

Does Quitting Smoking Help Peripheral Artery Disease?

Improved Blood Circulation

By quitting smoking, you can improve blood circulation, which is particularly important for individuals with PAD who already have compromised blood flow to the extremities.

Reduced Risk of Complications

PAD can lead to complications such as leg pain, difficulty walking, and in severe cases, non-healing wounds and amputations. Quitting smoking can reduce the risk of these complications by improving blood flow and promoting better overall vascular health.

Slowed Disease Progression

Quitting smoking is one of the most effective ways to slow the progression of PAD and improve symptoms. Over time, the risk of complications decreases, and the body’s natural healing processes are better able to function.

Enhanced Wound Healing

Smoking impairs the body’s ability to heal wounds. For individuals with PAD, especially those with advanced disease, non-healing wounds can be a significant concern. Quitting smoking can improve wound healing and reduce the risk of complications.

Improved Oxygen Delivery

Quitting smoking allows for better oxygen delivery to the tissues, improving symptoms and overall physical function. As carbon monoxide clears from your system, your blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity improves.

Enhanced Quality of Life

Quitting smoking positively impacts the overall well-being of individuals with PAD, enhancing their quality of life. Improved blood flow and oxygen delivery lead to better physical function, reduced pain, and increased ability to engage in daily activities.

Request an Appointment with American Endovascular 

Quitting smoking is a crucial step in managing and improving the outcomes of peripheral artery disease. It not only helps slow the progression of the disease but also reduces the risk of complications and improves overall vascular health. If you have PAD or are at risk for it, contact American Endovascular to request an appointment with one of our vascular specialists in New York and New Jersey to learn more about your risk factors and treatment options. It’s never too late to quit smoking and make a positive change for your future.

Learn more about vascular health, prevention, and care for Peripheral Artery Disease.

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