Patients who stop smoking at least four weeks before their surgery significantly reduce the risk of having post-surgical complications because their blood flow improves, according to a UN report published Tuesday.

The report from Geneva-based World Health Organization WHO), a UN agency, argued that minor or non-essential operations on regular smokers could be delayed to give them time to quit and thereby improve outcomes such as wound healing and heart function.

The WHO study, conducted in cooperation with the University of Newcastle, Australia and the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists (WFSA), found that every additional tobacco-free week beyond the four weeks improved health outcomes by 19 percent.

“The report provides evidence that there are advantages to postponing minor or non-emergency surgery to give patients the opportunity to quit smoking, resulting in a better health outcome,” Dr. Vinayak Prasad, head of the No Tobacco unit at WHO, said in a statement.

While tobacco smokers face a significantly higher risk of post-surgical complications, including impaired heart and lung functions, infections and delayed wound healing, the study reveals that patients who quit smoking are less likely to experience complications with anesthesia than those who do not.

The Nicotine and carbon monoxide present in cigarettes can decrease oxygen levels and greatly increase risk of heart-related complications after surgery.

Tobacco also damages lungs, making it difficult for the proper amount of air to flow through increasing the risk of post-surgical lung complications.

Smoking distorts a patient’s immune system, can delay healing and increases the risk of infection at the wound site. Smoking just one cigarette decreases the body’s ability to deliver necessary nutrients for healing after surgery.

“Complications after surgery present a large burden for both the health care provider and the patient”, Shams Syed, Coordinator, Quality of Care at WHO, said, adding that “primary care physicians, surgeons, nurses and families are important in supporting a patient to quit smoking at every stage of care, especially before an operation”.

WHO encourages countries to include cessation programmes and educational campaigns in their health systems to spread awareness and help people to quit.

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