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Unmasking the Danger: Smoking’s Role in Kidney Disease Development

Dec 20, 2023

Smoking is a well-known risk factor for many diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and lung disease. According to the CDC, more than 16 million Americans live with a disease that has been caused by smoking, including kidney disease.

If you smoke, you have control over one of the most significant risks to the health of your kidneys and overall health. This blog article discusses the danger of smoking in the development of kidney disease.

Key Points

  • Smoking or chewing tobacco can increase blood pressure, which may lead to kidney disease.
  • Smoking may worsen kidney disease and can interfere with medications that are used to treat high blood pressure.
  • Studies show secondhand smokers have an increased risk of developing the health problems associated with smoking.

What Health Conditions are Related to Smoking?

Research shows that cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 different substances and can lead to physical damage to the body and its organs. Thus, smoking is a serious risk factor and causative agent for numerous health conditions, such as:

According to the National Institutes of Health, smoking is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths in the U.S. and is a preventable cause of premature death.

How Does Smoking Affect the Kidneys

Smoking can negatively affect the kidneys in numerous ways. Smoking increases the severity of kidney disease in patients with chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and others. The main way smoking affects the kidneys is by disrupting the blood flow to the arteries in the kidneys.

Cigarettes contain multiple chemicals that have the potential to cause kidney damage. The specific mechanism that causes kidney damage from smoking is not known. However, it is known that high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and kidney cancer are caused by smoking. These diseases are known causes and risk factors for kidney disease.

Heart disease and smoking

Smoking is a major cause of heart disease. Chemicals in cigarette smoke affect the cells that line the blood vessels, causing them to become inflamed and swollen. Smoking can:

Heart disease is a major cause of kidney disease and a common cause of fatalities among dialysis patients. This is because damage to the heart or cardiovascular systems can directly damage the kidneys, affecting their ability to filter blood. People with CKD have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular complications such as sudden cardiac arrest, heart failure, and arrhythmias.

Kidney disease is linked with heart failure due to the damaged kidneys not being able to clear waste products and excess water. Similarly, heart failure patients are at an increased risk of developing kidney disease, as there is reduced blood flow to the kidneys.

High blood pressure and smoking

The connection between high blood pressure and smoking is not yet determined. However, smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke increase the risk for atherosclerosis (build-up of plaque in the arteries). High blood pressure also causes the arteries to narrow. The damaged blood vessels are not able to supply sufficient blood to the kidneys, causing damage to the glomeruli.

Some medications to manage high blood pressure can be affected by smoking. Unmanaged or poorly controlled high blood pressure is one of the leading causes of kidney disease.

Diabetes and smoking

Smoking is a risk factor for type II diabetes and can make managing the disease more difficult. This is due to the high levels of nicotine, which reduces the effectiveness of insulin, causing more insulin to be needed to regulate blood sugar levels.

Without effective management, diabetes can lead to other health problems such as kidney failure, heart disease, blindness, and nerve and blood vessel damage. Diabetic nephropathy is kidney damage caused by diabetes. The small blood vessels and nephrons in the kidneys are damaged, and they are unable to filter blood effectively. Early diagnosis and management of kidney disease can help prevent the development of other conditions, such as heart disease.

People with diabetes who have kidney disease are at double the risk of developing heart disease.

Healthy kidneys and smoking

The Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial showed that men in the general population who did not have kidney disease were at an increased risk of developing ESKD if they were smokers. For those that are heavy smokers, the risk gets higher.

Multiple health organizations have called cigarette smoking the most preventable risk factor for good health. Studies have shown that in addition to the chronic diseases mentioned above, smoking also contributes to kidney failure among those populations that do not have kidney disease.

A study found that the risk of ESKD significantly increases according to the number of cigarettes smoked per day, per year, and packs per year.

Possible Benefits of Quitting Smoking for People with Kidney Disease

  • Decreasing the risk of smoking-related health issues in kidney disease. For smokers with kidney disease, the biggest incentive to quit smoking is the increased chance of reducing disease progression and preserving kidney function. The CDC shows that quitting smoking in early-stage kidney disease can reduce the risk of heart disease and slow disease progression.
  • Improving the quality of life for people with kidney disease. Quitting smoking has many benefits that make it easier to manage kidney disease or prevent disease progression. According to the CDC, some benefits include more energy, lower cholesterol, a stronger immune system, and better mental health.
  • Slowing the progression of kidney disease. Stopping smoking can improve related health concerns, and the longer you quit, the lower the risk for diseases. This means fewer health problems that are kidney disease-related.

How to Quit Smoking

The number of cigarettes that are smoked tends to increase the risk of renal failure, so quitting would be the best option. Quitting smoking can be very difficult, especially if you are a longtime smoker, due to nicotine addiction, cravings, and temptations.

There are many resources, including your care team, to assist you. If you are trying to or considering quitting smoking, talk to your healthcare provider or look at one or more of these options:

Panoramic Health

Panoramic Health is a physician-led, value-based kidney care platform. We have over 14 years of experience in treating and managing patients across the CKD3-ESKD spectrum. Our clinical understanding and engagement of CKD ensures that our patients receive better care and outcomes.