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Smoking may cost you a leg: doctors

health and fitness Updated: May 30, 2013 13:14 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
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A regular smoker, a 32-year-old employee with an MNC, almost lost his leg after suffering from a 'leg attack', a peripheral arterial disease which has become common among tobacco addicts in Indore.

Like many of us, this young man had a hectic schedule, odd sleeping hours and irregular meals. The doctors who treated him at CHL hospital say that he got it at a "shockingly young age".

When plaque accumulates in the arteries that nourish the heart it is called heart disease. When it restricts blood flow through arteries to the legs it is called peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

"Five years back, such cases were unheard of. But increasingly, we have young people coming to us with such problems. It's a serious problem and smoking is a major factor," says Dr Tarun Gandhi, vascular surgeon at CHL Group of Hospitals, Indore.

"Everyone knows that smoking causes lung cancer and greatly increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. But few of my patients have ever heard that smoking also increases the risk of vascular disease in their legs and ultimately, if left untreated, the loss of a leg," he said.

Nicotine causes constriction in blood vessel walls, which in turn creates an environment for plaque build-up. These blockages in the vessels around the heart lead to a heart attack. In the legs, these blockages start by causing pain. But finally the poor circulation kills the tissue and leaves no other option but amputation.

"Surgery and other procedures to clear away the plaque can relieve the pain. That's reassuring for some. But when I tell them that without one of these procedures they run the risk of losing the leg they're stunned. They never knew," Gandhi adds.

He further added that based on research it has been confirmed that nicotine is as addictive as harder drugs like heroine and cocaine. Therefore it is advisable that one should not start it for any reason, especially the younger ones.

As tobacco chewing is a way of living for the population in Madhya Pradesh, the cases of head and neck cancer cases are highest among any kind of cancers in men in the state.

According to the Indore Cancer Foundation one out of three patients in India suffers from head and neck cancers. The incidence is on a rise and is expected to double in the next 25 years.

Nearly 90% of head and neck cancers are caused due to tobacco.

Consumption of alcohol with tobacco increases the chances of developing cancers.

Tobacco also causes other cancers such as cancer of the pancreas, lung cancer, cancer of the breast and uterus.

Dr Anil Singhvi, cancer specialist says, "It appears that almost 30% of the world population is addicted to one or the other form of tobacco use. The developing world is more at risk with 65% of smokers residing in poor countries."

He added, "Tobacco use causes 90% of lung cancer deaths, 20% of other cancer deaths, 75% of deaths due to emphysema and bronchitis and 25% of cardiac deaths."