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Diabetes is Another Reason to Quit

by Muhammad Kashif, MD

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November marks both Lung Cancer Awareness and Diabetes Awareness Month—and that correlation is no coincidence. We all know smoking is bad for our health, but did you know smoking poses even greater health risks to patients with diabetes?

Understanding Diabetes

There are different types of diabetes, but they have one thing in common: blood sugar. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin it produces very well, leading to higher than normal blood sugar. Through medication and lifestyle changes like a healthier diet and more exercise, diabetes can be successfully managed to avoid more serious health complications like blindness, heart disease, kidney damage and limb amputation.

How Smoking Makes Matters Worse

In recent decades, we’ve been taught how much damage smoking can do to our lungs and other organs, but smoking causes more than cancer. Doctors now know that smoking can actually cause type 2 diabetes and intensify its complications.

Smoking increases hemoglobin, inflammation, and oxidative stress in the body, a condition in which tobacco’s chemicals combine with oxygen to damage cells. Nicotine alone can raise hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c). These increased levels are closely associated with developing diabetes.

According to the CDC, smokers are 30–40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers, and your risk of developing diabetes increases the more cigarettes you smoke. Regardless of diabetes type, smokers are much more likely to have trouble controlling their diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes puts patients at greater risk of severe complications.

Smokers with diabetes are at higher risk for serious complications like:

  • Heart and kidney disease
  • Retinopathy, an eye disease that can cause blindness
  • Nerve damage, causing pain, weakness, numbness, and poor limb coordination
  • Poor blood flow, which leads to infection, ulcers, and even amputation (i.e., surgical removal of a body part, such as toes, feet or legs)

This November, you have another reason to quit. All smokers with diabetes should quit using all forms of tobacco (e.g., cigarettes, chew, cigars, e-cigarettes/vaping). You will see big health benefits right away. Smokers who quit see much better control over their blood sugar and their insulin becomes more effective.

If you are a smoker or tobacco-user with diabetes who’s ready to quit, call your primary care doctor for tobacco cessation support, or call UPMC Susquehanna’s Lung Center at 570-321-3580.

Dr. Muhammad Kashif offers quick diagnosis and treatment for respiratory illnesses and lung disease in patients of all ages at the UPMC Susquehanna Lung Center, including bronchitis, chronic cough, emphysema, COPD, lung cancer, and tuberculosis.