Smoking can cost an arm and a leg - literally

Last updated at 11:39 31 August 2005

Smokers have been warned that their habit could end up costing an arm and a leg - and not just financially.

A health report by Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) has highlighted the devastating consequences of Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) which can lead to amputations. Smokers are 16 times more likely to suffer the condition but few know anything about it.

PAD affects the circulation of blood in the main arteries. It narrows the arteries, making it more difficult for blood to reach some parts of the body.

While this can sometimes lead to amputations, the greatest risk for people with PAD is a heart attack or stroke.

PAD 'little understood'

Campaigners said awareness of PAD, which can lead to gangrene and limb amputation, was low and little understood.

The report by Ash said that around 2.7 million people in the UK over the age of 55 have some degree of PAD.

It said that about one third of patients with PAD die within five years, and half die within 10 years of diagnosis.

Ash said that about half of patients with PAD had no obvious symptoms and the first indication of arterial disease may be a heart attack or stroke.

Quitting reduces danger of condition

The campaign group said that giving up smoking reduced the risk of PAD progressing and dramatically reduced the need for limb amputation and danger of premature death.

Deborah Arnott, director of Ash, said: "Quite literally, smoking can cost an arm and a leg if people with arterial disease don't stop smoking.

"Despite the fact that thousands of people are diagnosed with this disorder every year, PAD is a little understood consequence of smoking.

"Doctors and health professionals should warn patients who smoke of the risk of arterial disease and offer them advice on ways to quit."

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: "It affects all arteries in the body, so people who smoke are risking the blood supply to all of their vital organs.

"Loss of blood supply leads to death of part or all of that organ, so that in the brain it causes strokes and in the heart it causes heart attacks, both of which are sudden and may be fatal.

"But in the limbs, particularly the lower limbs, it leads to chronic, disabling and often untreatable pain until gangrene finally sets in and amputation is inevitable," Professor Weissburg added.

The chairman of the British Vascular Foundation, Professor Sir Peter Bellsaid said: "Hopefully, this new report will bring PAD to the forefront and highlight the devastating effects that smoking can have on your circulation."

More information about the dangers of smoking is available by visiting the Ash website.

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now