​Smoking: How it Affects and Influences Your Well-Being

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on November 21, 2022 # Health

The dangers of smoking are well-known. Public health campaigns, friends, and loved ones warn the smokers in their lives about the damage they're doing to their lungs. But a smoker's lungs aren't the only part of their body at risk of life-changing circumstances.

Health Issues

Smoking is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. For example, smoking has a higher risk of mortality rate than car accidents. In addition, cigarettes and other tobacco products increase the risk of life-changing, if not fatal, side effects.

Most people link lung cancer with cigarettes, cigars, or other products. However, people who smoke are also at a higher risk for respiratory or heart disease. They also face central nervous system and brain cell damage. Smoking is also linked to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer.

Organs - lung highlighted stock photoRespiratory System

Your respiratory system consists of your lungs (including the muscles of your lungs), the diaphragm, blood vessels, and airways. The nerves of the respiratory system are the phrenic, vagus, and posterior nerves. Additional parts of your respiratory system are:

  • Nose and mouth – Breathing is possible because of the airways found in your nose and mouth.
  • Sinuses – Your sinuses are the hollow areas between the bones in your head. They assist in regulating the humidity and the temperature of the air you breathe.
  • Throat – The throat connects your mouth and nose to your windpipe (trachea).
  • Trachea – The trachea is the section of your respiratory system that links your throat with your lungs.
  • Bronchial tubes – The bronchial tubes connect your windpipe to your lungs. The components of your respiratory system work together to carry oxygen throughout your body and remove gases like carbon dioxide.
  • Talking
  • Smelling
  • It prevents harmful irritants or substances from affecting your airways

The respiratory system also controls:

Your respiratory system plays an integral role in your overall health. When people smoke, they damage their lungs' airways and alveoli (small air sacs). As a result, any respiratory issues you have, for instance, asthma, are affected.

Paralysis and the Respiratory System

Breathing is automatic. You don't have to think about taking a breath because your autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls the breathing process. You can manage your breathing when for example, you engage in deep breathing exercises. Otherwise, your ANS regulates your breathing.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports approximately one-third of people with an SCI will require temporary or permanent breathing assistance. In addition, they may undergo a tracheotomy (a tube is inserted into the windpipe) to help them breathe. Any damage to the C1-C4 segments of the spinal cord can affect breathing and the functioning of the diaphragm.

The diaphragm is a critical part of the respiratory system. The diaphragm is located below your lungs, separating your abdomen from the chest cavity. This vital muscle pulls the lungs down, allowing air into them. Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) or a stroke can affect the diaphragm's work.

If your diaphragm is affected by paralysis, you may have difficulty breathing, frequent coughing, or have an increased risk of contracting pneumonia. Respiratory complications, such as pneumonia, are the leading cause of death for those with an SCI. Those on a ventilator or who need a breathing tube are considered at high risk for developing pneumonia.

Smokers whose diaphragm or lungs are affected by an SCI or stroke are incredibly vulnerable to illnesses such as COVID-19 that focus on or attack the respiratory system. Therefore, avoiding harmful habits like smoking is advised.

Cardiovascular System

Your cardiovascular system is vital to your well-being. This is because the cardiovascular system circulates nutrients and oxygen while removing waste throughout your body. For this reason, you need to take care of your cardiovascular system through regular exercise and a healthy diet.

Heart health is key to a healthy, functioning heart. Anything that threatens the health of your heart threatens every other system in your body. Unhealthy habits like smoking can increase the risk of:

Circulatory System and Paralysis

The job of the respiratory system is to supply the body with oxygen. The circulatory system moves the oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. An SCI disrupts communication between the brain and the body's multiple systems, including the circulatory system. The disruption between the brain and the cardiac system can result in changes in blood flow rate. People who are paralyzed may experience issues with their circulatory system. Some of the more common problems are

  • Abnormal heart rate – adverse effects of an irregular heart rate include shortness of breath, dizziness, or heart attack
  • Low blood pressure – low blood pressure is dangerous because the body loses control over the blood vessels. As a result, they can widen. Because of this, blood can collect in smaller arteries failing to circulate throughout the body.
  • Increase in blood pressure – high blood pressure can result in stroke, cardiac arrest, or hemorrhaging of the retinas.
  • Blood clots – muscle movement is crucial to the circulation of blood. Without regular muscle movement, the risk of forming a blood clot increases. In addition, people with an SCI are at an increased risk of blood clots because of the stagnation of blood flow from the large veins in their legs.

Those with a type of paralysis that affects their circulatory system who also smoke risk further damage to their body and are at an increased risk of getting an illness such as COVID-19.

Stroke and Risk of Paralysis

Strokes and heart disease are cardiovascular diseases. Often, when the heart is damaged from an unhealthy lifestyle that can include smoking, people may experience chest pain, a heart attack, heart failure, or arrhythmia. But, smokers are also at an increased risk of having a stroke.

A stroke is when the blood supply to the brain is blocked or a blood vessel in the brain bursts. When a blood vessel bursts, it can cause parts of your brain to be damaged or die. Damaged or dead brain cells may result in several health issues, including paralysis.

Central Nervous System

Your central nervous system consists of your brain and spinal cord. An additional part of your nervous system is the peripheral nervous system which consists of the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord and link with all aspects of your body. The nervous system sends signals from the brain to every part of your body. Any disruption to the brain, such as a brain injury or spinal cord injury, can impede communication between the parts of your body. But, the brain also controls your:

  • Body functions
  • Emotions
  • Thought processing
  • Behaviors

Reducing the risk of damage to your central nervous system is vital. Because not only does smoking affect how your central nervous system functions, but it can increase your risk of a stroke.

Smoking and COVID-19

Smokers are already at an increased risk of health issues. But, smokers are also more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. This is because COVID-19 attacks the respiratory system. As a result, your lungs, windpipe, throat, and nasal cavity are also vulnerable to the damaging effects of COVID-19.

COVID-19 affects your lungs before it attacks any other part of your body. Your cells that line your airway contain specific proteins (ACE-2 receptors). The COVID-19 virus gains lung access because it attaches itself to those receptors. Once in the lungs, the virus quickly replicates itself and attacks other cells in the airway. Your body tries to fight the COVID-19 virus by activating the immune system. In severe COVID-19 cases, the fight between the immune system and the virus can form an overwhelming amount of debris and the lungs can collect fluid.

Researchers are aware of COVID-19’s effects on the respiratory system and are furthering their research on its effects on other body parts. Medical professionals and scientists are also studying the impact of the coronavirus on the:

  • Cardiovascular system
  • Kidneys
  • Brain
  • Liver
  • Blood

as well as other parts of the body.

Paralysis After COVID-19

The onslaught of the COVID-19 virus on your respiratory and other systems, such as your central nervous and cardiovascular systems, can lead to paralysis. Although rare, in some cases, neurological involvement post-coronavirus is connected to Guillain-Barre syndrome. Scientists continue to research the effects of COVID-19's nervous system invasion.

Research

The long-term effects on the respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems continue to be studied. As researchers progress in their findings, they may also be able to assess further the damage smoking has on the well-being of those affected by COVID-19.

Ways to Stop Smoking

There are several ways to stop smoking. First, you can talk to your doctor to find out what is right for you. But, you can also use over-the-counter aids like gums or patches. You may also reach out to others who understand what you're going through by attending support groups.

Christina Sisti, DPS, MPH, MS is a bioethicist and health care policy advocate. She works to create awareness and improve health care policy for those with long-term health issues.

This publication was supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $160,000 with 100% funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS or the U.S. government.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.