Dangers of Smoking with Diabetes

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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By now, it’s very likely you’ve heard of the dangers of smoking. And while smoking isn’t good for anyone, it’s particularly harmful if you live with diabetes. Smoking increases the risk of diabetic complications significantly and can make diabetes much harder to manage. Fortunately, quitting smoking can help lessen these risks and lead to better overall health.

Learning more about the effect of smoking on diabetes may be just enough to inspire you to quit. Making a quitting plan, getting support from friends and family, and working with your doctor all boost your chances of quitting for good. That way, you can focus on managing diabetes and staying as healthy as possible.

How Smoking Affects Diabetes

Diabetes occurs when your body can’t use insulin properly. Insulin, a hormone, allows all cells throughout your body to absorb glucose, or sugar, to use for energy. If you have diabetes, cells can’t absorb glucose, and it builds up in your bloodstream. Eventually, this buildup damages your blood vessels and nerves, leading to serious complications like cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and other problems like infections.

Smoking also damages many of the same tissues and organs in your body, including your heart, blood vessels, and lungs. And it makes diabetes much harder to manage. High levels of nicotine, the addictive chemical in cigarettes, further prevent your body from making enough insulin. Also, smoking makes insulin less effective—and if you already have diabetes, this may mean that your treatment, such as insulin shots, don’t work as well as they should.

While diabetes itself increases your risk of serious complications, smoking boosts this risk even higher. If you live with diabetes and smoke, you are much more likely to experience:

  • Circulation problems: Certain substances in cigarettes have been linked to inflammation. Over time, persistent inflammation can lead to a condition known as atherosclerosis, which occurs when fats and other substances build up on the inside of blood vessels. This buildup may make it more difficult for blood to flow through a blood vessel. Long-term poor blood flow in the legs and feet are especially dangerous. In many cases, circulation problems lead to hard-to-treat infections and ulcers, which increase the likelihood of amputation of parts of the body.
  • Heart and kidney disease: According to research, smoking increases your likelihood of coronary heart disease by 54%. Also, you’re 52% more likely to have a heart attack. And circulation problems may cause additional damage to your kidneys, making them less effective at filtering waste products out of your blood.
  • Neuropathy: If blood vessels are damaged and can’t deliver blood effectively, nerves throughout your body may also become damaged. This may lead to numbness, pain, and weakness in affected areas.
  • Retinopathy: Blood vessels that deliver oxygen and nutrients to the eyes can also become damaged. Over time, this may lead to complete vision loss.

Getting Help to Quit

Quitting smoking is hard, but doing so can dramatically improve your health and lessen your risk for diabetic complications. Quitting can reduce your risk of death from diabetic complications by as much as 30%, and it can also help to slow or stop problems like kidney disease. To successfully quit smoking, try:

  • Setting a quit date and writing down your reasons for quitting
  • Telling friends and family about your intent to quit
  • Throwing cigarettes, lighters, and ashtrays away
  • Using a quitting strategy, such as going cold turkey or using nicotine patches, gums, or sprays, to help you avoid smoking
  • Working with your doctor and taking prescribed medication to lessen cravings

It may be easier to quit smoking when your life is calm and your stress levels are low. Also, it can be tremendously helpful to ask others for their help—a strong support system can truly make the difference between quitting and continuing to smoke. You can use any combination of these steps to help you quit for good.

Quitting is the best way to improve your health and better manage your diabetes so your risk for severe complications is reduced. If you’ve made a plan but still have trouble stopping smoking, ask your doctor for help. There’s no shame in getting all the support you can to stop smoking, especially since there are so many health benefits to doing so.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 22
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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