6 Urinary Conditions Made Worse by Smoking

By: Alexander Tapper, M.D.

Nearly one in 12 Americans smoke. This January, more than one in 10 pledged to quit. If you are among those trying to kick the habit and could use some added incentives, we’ve got 70 of them.

That is the number of chemicals found in tobacco that are known to cause cancers and other ailments, from kidney stones to erectile dysfunction. These chemicals include poisons such as lead, formaldehyde, ammonia, arsenic – even radioactive elements.

Once these toxins enter your body, they are exposed to organs and tissues you might not have expected, which can trigger a range of problems.

This is Your Urinary System on Tobacco

Remember the “Skeleton Dance” song (“the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone”)? The same applies to the organs; what runs through one is passed to another.

When the chemicals from cigarette smoke enter your lungs, they don’t stay there. They are absorbed into your bloodstream. Your blood then enters the kidneys, which filter out those toxins. Some of these chemicals can get passed on and travel through you until you pee.

This increases your risk of developing at least six urinary health conditions. Here’s how it happens.

Condition 1: Cancer of the kidneys As your kidneys filter your blood, the toxins from smoking can accumulate and become concentrated, causing cell damage that develops into cancerous tumors. Smoking doubles the risk of this disease and is believed to cause 30% of cases in men and 25% in women.

Condition 2: Cancer of the bladder – After the kidneys clean your blood, the waste (urine) is passed to your bladder, where it is stored until you pee. If toxins are in your urine, then the cells in the linings of your bladder can mutate. Smokers are four to seven times more likely than non-smokers to develop the disease.

Condition 3: Kidney stones – Stones are painful crystals formed by a concentration of chemicals, including calcium, that separate from the urine. Ongoing research suggests smoking causes higher levels of some of these chemicals and can contribute to calcium stones.

Condition 4: Painful bladder syndrome – Also called interstitial cystitis (IC), this painful ailment can result from inflammation of the bladder wall. Smoking can worsen IC by irritating the bladder. A smoker’s cough, which puts a lot of pressure on your abdomen, also can worsen the pain.

Condition 5: Urinary incontinence – If the toxins from smoking aggravate the bladder enough, you’ll experience more frequent urination. Combine this with coughing spasms, which can tax your pelvic muscles, and you can be more vulnerable to leaking urine.

Condition 6: Reproductive issues – Smoking can compromise reproduction in a few of ways. It slows blood circulation, making it more difficult to achieve an erection (erectile dysfunction). Further, the toxins from smoke can reduce hormone production and damage eggs and sperm.

Symptom Check: What to Look Out For

Most of the above conditions share a few key symptoms. For example, if you experience frequent, painful, or burning urination, blood in your urine (hematuria), cloudy urine, or unusual pain in your back and sides, you might want to contact a urologist. These are red flags of urinary illness.

Ready to Quit? We Can Help

Smoking is, for many, triggered by routines. If you are having trouble quitting, try changing your day-to-day activities. Rather than smoking after a meal, play a game or get some light exercise. Avoid events that typically include smoking. And try a chemical-free cigarette substitute, such as a straw or a cinnamon stick.

Lastly, reach out. Smokefree.gov offers tools and tips, and the National Cancer Institute’s live online support can help you weather difficult periods. Remember, you’re never alone.

Your doctor also can provide support and guidance if you’re trying to quit smoking – or vaping. You can easily find a provider online at one of our convenient locations.

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