Although smoking is not a direct cause of arthritis, it is now known to be a risk factor. Smoking contributes to so many health problems, that almost any illness is more serious in smokers than in non smokers. Some of the ill effects of smoking may be especially harmful to people with arthritis.
Because research has shown that many people remain surprisingly unaware of the harmful effects of smoking, and they are still vulnerable to peer group pressure and tobacco advertising, it is worthwhile summarizing just a few of the risks here:
- People who smoke tobacco have a much greater risk of developing cancer of the lung, mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas and cervix.
- Smokers are more likely to develop high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and blood clots, causing bad circulation in the legs, which sometimes leads to gangrene and the need to amputate a limb. Smokers may also develop other circulatory problems.
- People affected severely by rheumatoid arthritis may develop circulatory problems. Smoking doubles the risk. Arthritis usually limits mobility and so, eventually, does smoking through the damage done to the circulatory system.
The dangerous effects of passive smoking, where a non smoker unavoidably inhales tobacco smoke by being near someone who is smoking, have now been conclusively proved, and most people, especially parents of young children, are aware of this condition. If you do smoke, do not be surprised if you find yourself deprived of the company of children and other non smokers.
Giving it up
It has long been known that nicotine affects the brain and causes addiction in the same way that heroin does. Although nicotine if profoundly addictive, the good news is that the habit can be kicked. There are, for example, about 11 million ex-smokers in the United Kingdom alone. You will need self motivation before you can give up, and the first step is to consciously make the decision to stop, no one else can do this for you.
An incentive to give up smoking is to remind yourself of how expensive it is. Work out how much money you spend on smoking every year. One method to encourage yourself at the start is to set aside the money you save by not smoking and use it to treat yourself when you reach certain target days, such as a month or a year after your last cigarette.
Quit, a charity that is devoted to helping people give up smoking, have developed these guidelines to help you stop smoking:
- Treat yourself with the money you save
- Make a date to stop smoking and stick to it. Most people who succeed do so by stopping completely all at once, not by gradually cutting down.
- Keep busy to help you through the first few days. Many people find that they need to keep their hand occupied. Throw away your unopened cigarette packets, ashtrays, matches and lighters.
- Drink lots of water, perhaps with orange or lemon slices to make it more palatable. Keep a glass by you and sip from it steadily.
- Be more active, because this will help you relax. If your arthritis allows it, take the stairs instead of the lift, go for a swim or join an exercise class at your local leisure center.
- If you suffer from withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, nervousness, headaches or sore throats, do not worry. They are all signs that your body is readjusting to doing without the nicotine and, when that has happened, the unpleasant symptoms will stop.
- Change your routine to avoid smoking linked activities. Take a detour so that you do not pass the shop where you used to buy cigarettes, and above all, it is only for a little while, do not go for drinks in pubs with friends who smoke.
- Do not use a celebration as an excuse for just one cigarette. Research shows that for most people, one cigarette usually leads to another.
- As time goes on, watch your weight even more carefully than you usually do. Stopping smoking sometimes increases a desire for sweet things. Although it is difficult not to be affected by this, it can be compensated for by eating a more healthy diet
- Take it one day at a time. Each day that you do not smoke represent a real improvement in your health. Even after only a few days breathings will be more each and energy levels will increase.
If you lapse, do not talk yourself into believing that you have blown it for good. Just do not smoke any more. One or two lapses may mean that you have lost those particular battles, but you have not lost the war.
Avoiding the smoking habit
To help you stop smoking, go to places that do not allow smoking, such as:
- Go swimming
- Go to the theatre or cinema
- Stay the weekend with non smoking friends
- Work as a hospital volunteer helper several hours a week
- Offer to help friends or relatives with babysitting, where you know you cannot smoke
- Travel by public transport rather than by car
- Visit your favorite department store
- Go to a gym or exercise class, if your arthritis permits you
- Offer your services, such as helping with reading, to a local primary school