As if there aren’t already a hundred reasons to quit smoking, here’s another to add to the list: cold feet? Smoking cigarettes may be a contributing factor. According to the CDC, a current smoker is someone who has smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their life and currently smokes some days or every day. How does smoking cigarettes lead to decreased temperature in the extremities?
When you inhale a cigarette, it causes narrowing of the blood vessels. This reduces blood flow to our extremities. As a result, fingers and toes may become pale or blue in color. Reduced blood flow to the extremities means fewer oxygen and nutrients are being delivered to the cells and tissues. This eventually can lead to pain or numbness and can further spread to the arms and legs.
Peripheral arterial disease is the name given to the condition that causes arteries to narrow and harden due to plaque buildup. Smokers are at much higher risk for PAD. Studies have also shown that chemicals in cigarette smoke may trigger changes in the blood vessels putting one more at risk. Some of the changes that may occur with PAD include hardening of the artery walls, decreasing expansibility of the vessels, clot formation, and rising blood pressure. Pain in the legs and pain after walking and rest (also known as intermittent claudication) may also be associated with this condition.
Another condition related to cigarette smoking, although not as common as PAD, is known as Buerger’s disease. Unlike PAD this condition is not caused by plaque formation, but by inflammation of the vessels which may cause arteries to become blocked. Patients with this disease almost always are smokers. However, patients who have this disease may also get it from other forms of tobacco. Researchers are still trying to understand how tobacco causes this disease.
Symptoms of circulation problems in the lower extremity include:
- Pale, red, or bluish toes
- Severe pain in feet
- Pain in legs, ankles, and feet after walking, also pain in the arch
- Skin changes, including painful sores, or possible ulcers.
“Getting cold feet” from smoking could be the hallmark of a worsening condition. The obvious answer to reducing risk is to quit the cigarettes. If you feel that you are already experiencing the cooling of your feet and toes, don’t ignore it. Get it checked out by your podiatric or medical physician, it may save you from developing a more serious condition in the future.