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Cigarette Smoking (cont.)

When to Seek Medical Care for Smoking Cessation

If you are interested in quitting smoking, call your doctor.

  • It is never too early to think about quitting.
  • Every encounter with a doctor, whether in the office, the hospital, the emergency department, or clinic, is a good time to talk about smoking and the possibility of quitting.

Anyone, especially smokers, with unexplained or sudden onset chest pain or difficulty breathing should go to the nearest hospital's emergency department, probably by ambulance. These conditions may be symptoms of a heart attack or other serious health problems, which can be life-threatening if not recognized and treated promptly. Tobacco use may cause problems (for example, hypertension, vascular alterations) that lead to shortness of breath or chest pain that may be life-threatening.

Tobacco use may lead or contribute to one of the following causes of dyspnea or chest pain:

  • pneumonia,
  • acute attack of emphysema,
  • pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung),
  • aortic aneurysm (a widening of the main artery leaving the heart, caused by a weakening in the wall of the artery), and
  • aortic dissection (a tearing of the wall of the aorta, which, if it ruptures, bleeds profusely).

How Can You Tell if Someone Is Smoking Cigarettes?

Smoking is recognized as a medical diagnosis called Tobacco Use Disorder.

Doctors should ask people about tobacco use at every visit and provide counseling about quitting.

Most people who smoke admit doing so, in part because smoking carries less social stigma than use of other substances, such as alcohol or illicit drugs. Smokers should not underestimate how much they smoke and for what length of time (for example, a pack a day since age 16), as this information helps the doctor understand the risk for tobacco-related disease.

Upon a physical exam, a doctor may find various conditions associated with chronic tobacco use.

  • Nicotine causes a characteristic brown staining of the hard palate, teeth, fingers, and fingernails.
  • A smoker's skin may wrinkle prematurely.
  • Smokers have a typical odor to their hair and clothing.
  • People with emphysema may have a large, barrel-shaped chest and a chronic cough that produces thick green sputum.

Occasionally, a smoker may have pulmonary function tests performed to help determine the amount of damage done to the lungs by smoking. For young teens, it may be best for physicians to ask the teen about his or her cigarette smoking history with the parents or caregivers out of the room.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/21/2016

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