Smoking could cost you your legs: study

24 February 2016

Around 25 Britons are having legs amputated every day due to a ''cruel'' disease linked to smoking, shocking new figures show.

An arterial insufficiency ulcer in a person with severe peripheral artery disease (Wikipedia)  

Smokers are being urged to quit the habit as a report shows a million adults 90 per cent of whom are smokers or ex-smokers - may be living with peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

Around half a million have been diagnosed with it but a top surgeon warns the actual number of Brits affected could be twice as high.

Ten million UK adults smoke cigarettes. Experts say quitting is the single best thing you can do for your health.

Half of all PAD sufferers show no symptoms until they suffer a heart attack or stroke.

The British Heart Foundation's report says PAD happens when there is a build-up of fatty deposits in the walls of the leg arteries which restricts blood supply to leg muscles.

People suffering from PAD have a much higher risk of developing serious forms of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes, because it is likely that blood vessels elsewhere in the body are also affected.

When symptoms are left untreated, the leg tissue may begin to die. This causes gangrene and, in its severest form, critical limb ischemia (CLI), which results in amputation in around 30 per cent of cases.

Around 9,000 British have to undergo leg amputations as a result every year, which works out at one every hour or 25 every day.

Dr Mike Knapton, the BHF's associate medical director, said: ''Peripheral arterial disease can lead to horrific consequences and the silent nature of the condition means that opportunities to diagnose and treat it are often missed.

''We do know that stopping smoking is the single most effective way of reducing your risk of developing this potentially deadly disease and with No Smoking Day on 9 March, now is a great time to prepare to start your quitting journey.''

Brian Shead, 61, of Edenbridge, Kent, has twice had surgery to treat critical limb ischemia in both of his legs, resulting in having a stent fitted in his left leg. He has smoked since he was 13, and at one point was smoking 40 cigarettes a day. He is now down to 10 a day and is preparing to make a quit attempt this No Smoking Day.

Shead said, ''The pain in my legs started off small and gradually got worse and worse until I could barely walk. I had no idea that my smoking habit was causing it, and when I realised how serious my condition was, I cut down smoking immediately.

''Due to the severity of my condition, and the number of years I smoked I had to have surgery on both my legs. It's so important that people understand the devastating effect smoking can have. I was lucky and didn't have to have an amputation, but many aren't. I have cut down since my surgery, which I am really proud of, and I am making a quit attempt to stop for good on No Smoking Day.''

New scan technique
Meanwhile, researchers funded by the BHF are investigating a new scanning technique to accurately predict whether limbs affected by peripheral arterial disease could be saved through surgery.

The team, from King's College London and St Thomas' Hospital, are using the new technique to determine how effective a treatment has been and whether surgery is required.

Bijan Modarai, who is leading the study said, ''This dangerous disease very often goes undiagnosed and although there are half a million people in the UK officially suffering with peripheral arterial disease, I estimate that there could be over one million living with the condition.

''Approximately 30,000 adults have the most severe form of the condition, which results in at least 9,000 amputations per year.

''I see patients - the vast majority of whom are smokers - repeatedly having to go through painful surgery to ease the suffering of peripheral arterial disease.

''Research is the only way we will help improve the treatment. However it is crucial that we also use opportunities like No Smoking Day to raise awareness of the dangers of this cruel disease in order to inspire people to quit smoking and prevent them from putting themselves at risk in the first place.''

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