Last updated: April 2023
I know it is not exactly breaking news that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. However, you may not know that there are added health hazards that it brings to those of us with AS.
I thought I would discuss these to help motivate anybody else out there trying to quit. It definitely scared me into doing so.
Increased risk of other health issues
An unfortunate part of having ankylosing spondylitis is that it means we are more at risk of heart disease, strokes, and blood clots. These are all things that smoking can cause, so when you factor in our extra vulnerability, it takes the risk to another level.
Smoking can double the chances of getting heart disease. Combine this with AS and the odds become terrifyingly high.
Inflammation is something I struggle with a lot and I’m starting to think that smoking may be the reason behind it. There is evidence to suggest that smoking can cause inflammation even in people who don’t live with a chronic illness. AS loves nothing more than causing inflammation, so having AS and smoking seems to be the perfect combination for producing swollen joints.
Furthermore, studies have shown that smoking can prevent our bodies from responding well to anti-TNF medications to get rid of inflammation. So not only can it cause extra inflammation in the first place, but it makes it harder for our medications to improve the situation.1
Studies have shown that smokers with AS experience more pain than non smokers.2 I often used smoking as a way of relieving the stress of being in pain all day; little did I know that it may have been the reason why it was so bad in the first place.
I use exercise to reduce pain levels and increase my mobility but the effects of smoking on lung function and the cardiovascular system means that smokers don’t receive the full benefits that exercise has to offer. Although I have found a lot of relief from exercising, I am very much looking forward to seeing how much more of an impact is has as a non-smoker.
For me, the most terrifying part of being diagnosed with AS was being told about potential spinal fusion. The fear of this happening is what inspired me to be so strict with my stretching regiment and to stay as active a I possibly can.
What I wasn’t aware of was that by smoking all this time I was increasing the chance of this happening. It can speed up the process of spinal fusion as well as causing general damage to the spinal region at a faster rate.
Deciding to quit
The threat of shortening my life by smoking always made me think about quitting, but reading how much more painful the rest of my years could get if I didn’t is what finally made me act on it.
I read up on these things at the end of December, so I decided to be super clichéd and make it a New Year’s Resolution. This gave me New Year’s Eve to have one last smoky hoorah.
So far I have managed to cut down massively by chewing gum whenever I feel the urge for a cigarette and cutting down on drinking to further reduce temptation. I have still cracked at times and have booked an appointment with my GP to discuss ways of cutting it out completely. I would advise anyone else planning to quit to do the same.
If you are a smoker with AS and would like an extra push to quit, hopefully this information has been terrifying enough for you to make that change.
It’s still early days but I’m excited to see if I notice any benefits from living a smoke free life. Hopefully, one day I will be able to write another article about all the positive changes that I have noticed since giving up.
Have you quit smoking and noticed any changes to your condition? Let me know in the comments.
Has changing your diet helped manage your pain and flares?