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Regular smoker or alcoholic? Get these tests done before it’s too late!

Regular smoker or alcoholic? Get these tests done before it’s too late!

February 13, 2023
14 min read

Alcohol and smoking are two of the most common habits in the world, with millions of people indulging in them every day. While these habits may provide temporary relief or pleasure, they come with numerous health risks, including various diseases. Blood tests are an effective tool for detecting such diseases, and this guide will provide a comprehensive overview of diagnostic tests for alcohol and smoking-related diseases.

Because women have smaller lungs than males, cigarette smoke is more hazardous to them. So, the same dose of smoking has a more harmful impact on them.

The best remedy? Stop smoking.

But until you've established a quit date, you'll need to have certain screenings and blood tests more regularly than non-smokers. During routine checks, request that your doctor tests for signs of smoking-related disorders.

Here are six tests you could require and how often you should have them-

1. Spirometry

According to Dr. Schachter, every smoker should get spirometry and a chest X-ray.

Spirometry is a simple and affordable breathing test that assesses lung function and is performed in doctors' offices and labs. It is the most accurate test for detecting early-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

You simply blow into the machine [for 6 seconds] and it indicates the volume of air that enters and exits your lungs. It's useful for determining how much [lung] damage has already occurred.

Spirometry is recommended at yearly check-ups and whenever you visit the doctor for respiratory concerns.

According to some medical professionals, a spirometry result of 50% or less of lung capacity is not desirable.

"If you need surgery, you have a much higher chance of post-operative problems," he says.

Your lung function and capacity will continue to diminish if you continue to smoke. However, he claims that if you stop smoking, some - but not all - of the damage will begin to repair.

2. X-ray of the chest

Some doctors insist on annual chest X-rays for all cigarette users.

These scans provide a photo-like image of your lungs and heart with a low radiation dose (0.1 millisieverts, or mSv).

In smokers or ex-smokers, X-ray screening is the bare minimum, this is because they can reveal heart and blood vessel abnormalities that are exacerbated by smoking. X-rays also assist physicians in detecting clogged arteries or other cardiac abnormalities and scheduling surgery before they cause a heart attack.

They can also identify cancer-related anomalies.

According to a 2011 National Cancer Institute research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, chest X-rays aren't as helpful in detecting early-stage lung tumors (JAMA) and that’s the reason why many doctors favor CT scans for this purpose.

3. CT scans

Low-dose computed tomography, often known as a CT scan, is a type of computer-processed X-ray with 7 mSv of radiation that produces better diagnostic pictures and enables medical professionals to identify issues, such as lung cancer, earlier than with standard X-rays.

According to Dr Schachter, detecting lung cancer at an early stage can save lives since surgery is frequently still an option.

According to Dr Schachter, surgery is the greatest [therapy] we have for treating lung cancer, but by the time it's discovered, 85% of lung cancers can't be cured surgically.

According to him, five years after surgery, 60%-70% of people with stage 1 lung cancer survives but only 5% to 30% of later stages survive.

You must take the test even if you have given up smoking.

You should undergo a CT scan of the chest whether or not you are currently smoking if you are [a smoker] over 40 or have a history of at least 20 pack-years [one pack a day for 20 years, or two packs a day for 10 years].

4. Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

During your yearly physical test, your doctor will likely do tests, such as an electrocardiogram, to screen for heart problems if you have smoked for a long period.

An ECG helps identify whether and where cardiac damage has occurred by measuring the regularity and speed of your heartbeat.

That's because, as Dr. Schachter cautions, smoking can harm your heart in ways that are potentially fatal, including sudden death from ventricular arrhythmia, in which the electrical impulses governing the two lower heart chambers, or ventricles, become erratic.

He says that by binding with the haemoglobin in your red blood cells, carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke stops oxygen from reaching your heart. That might lead to cardiac problems.

Smoking also causes your heart's blood arteries to constrict, stiffen, or "clog," which slows or prevents blood flow.

Your doctor can recommend other medical tests, such as a cardiac stress test, which looks at blood flow while you're exercising.

5. Diabetes screenings

  • Smokers are susceptible to many chronic, debilitating age-related diseases including type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes.
  • People who smoke less than a pack of cigarettes a day have about a 44% increased risk of developing diabetes compared to non-smokers, according to a 2007 Swiss study published in the JAMA. Researchers at the University of Lausanne looked at data from 1.2 million people over the age of 30.
  • The longer and more frequently someone smokes, the greater the diabetes risk, researchers found.
  • That's why he advises smokers to be screened for diabetes during their yearly physicals.

6. Vitamin D blood tests

These tests are also prescribed for smokers.

As part of your yearly physical, if you smoke or have ever smoked and are over 50, do a quick blood test to assess your vitamin D levels.

A 2011 research that was published in the European Respiratory Journal found that more than 95% of smokers had low blood levels of vitamin D during the winter (when little sunshine is absorbed).

Vitamin D insufficiency, which is defined as having fewer than 20 nanograms of vitamin D per milliliter of blood, has been linked to a variety of lung issues.

According to research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine in October 2012, this deficit can cause smokers to have reduced lung capacity and a quicker deterioration in their lungs.

Although sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D, many individuals use supplements to obtain the 600 International Units (IU) daily suggested by the Institute of Medicine for those under the age of 70.

Higher dosages are recommended by certain doctors to boost blood levels. The amount you should take is a subject of debate, according to Dr Schachter. Some say 20,000 IU every week, while others advise 1,000 or 2,000 IU per day.

You can take advice from your doctor about what’s right for you.

 

If additional assistance is required then,

According to SmokeFree.gov, "START" is the key to quitting smoking tobacco:

S = Set a deadline to stop smoking.

T = Inform your family, friends, and co-workers that you want to quit.

A = Be aware of and prepare for the difficulties that quitting will bring.

R = Clear your house, car, and place of work of all cigarettes and other tobacco items.

T = Consult your doctor if they can help you to stop smoking.

For information and free tools, including a step-by-step quit smoking guide, visit www.smokefree.gov if you're ready to stop smoking. From 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT or 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET, the National Cancer Institute provides free smoking cessation counseling.

Specially trained, encouraging phone counselors are also available at your state's free quit line, 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669).

 

Now, let’s get to alcohol-related liver diseases.

The term "alcohol-related liver disease" (ARLD) describes liver damage brought on by excessive alcohol usage.

ARLD doesn't show any signs until the liver has been seriously injured. The following signs may appear when this occurs:

  1. feeling ill
  2. losing weight
  3. reduced appetite
  4. eyes and skin become yellow (jaundice)
  5. swollen ankles
  6. stomach discomfort
  7. doziness and exhaustion
  8. passing blood in your stools or vomiting blood

As a result, testing for other illnesses or at an advanced stage of liver damage is usually used to diagnose ARLD. Inform your doctor if you frequently use alcohol in excess so they can determine whether your liver is affected.

Read more about:

Alcohol and the liver

The liver is the body's most complicated organ, besides the brain. Its duties consist of removing pollutants from the blood, promoting food digestion, controlling cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and assisting in the battle against sickness and infection.

The liver is resilient and capable of regenerating itself, but prolonged alcohol misuse can lead to serious and permanent damage. ARLD is common in the UK and has been increasing over the last few decades due to increasing levels of alcohol misuse.

Read more about the causes of ARLD.

3 Stages of ARLD-

1   Alcoholic fatty liver disease

Drinking a substantial amount of alcohol, even for just a few days, can lead to a build-up of lipids in the liver. The initial stage of ARLD is known as alcoholic fatty liver disease. Fatty liver disease is reversible. After abstaining from alcohol for two weeks, your liver should function normally once again.

Despite the fact that fatty liver disease rarely shows any symptoms, it is an important sign to show that you are drinking too much.

2   Alcoholic liver disease

Alcohol over-consumption over a long time can result in alcoholic hepatitis, which is unrelated to infectious hepatitis and is a potentially deadly illness. When this occurs, it can be the first time a person realizes they are causing liver damage with alcohol. A lesser-known condition called alcoholic hepatitis might develop if you consume a lot of alcohol quickly (binge drinking). If you permanently stop drinking, the moderate alcoholic hepatitis-related liver damage is easily repairable.

However, severe alcoholic hepatitis is a dangerous and even fatal condition. In the UK, the illness claims the lives of many individuals every year, and for some, it's not until this point that they realize they have liver damage.

3   Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is a stage of ARLD in which the liver has been severely scarred. There might not even be any noticeable symptoms at this point.

Although it's usually irreversible, quitting alcohol immediately can reduce future harm and expand the length of your life.

A person with cirrhosis brought on by alcohol has a less than 50% chance of surviving for at least 5 more years if they don't quit drinking.

How ARLD is dealt with?

There isn't a precise medicinal cure for ARLD as of now. The key course of action is to stop drinking, and that too permanently. Your liver will have a lower chance of suffering more harm and will have a better chance of healing as a result.

It can be quite challenging to stop drinking if one has developed a habit of alcohol. However, nearby alcohol support agencies might be able to provide assistance, counsel, and medical care.

In extreme situations when the liver has stopped working and doesn't get better after you stop consuming alcohol, a liver transplant may be necessary.

You won't be given a liver transplant unless you've experienced cirrhosis issues despite quitting drinking. A person must abstain from alcohol while waiting for a liver transplant and for the rest of their lives.

Complication

Over the past few decades, deaths related to ARLD have increased significantly. Currently, along with smoking and high blood pressure, alcohol is one of the leading causes.

The following ARLD side effects are potentially lethal:

  • Internal bleeding that causes a toxic build-up in the brain (encephalopathy)
  •  Ascites, a fluid build-up in the belly, and kidney failure are both present
  • Liver cancer

ARLD prevention

The best strategy to avoid ARLD is to quit drinking alcohol or consume it within advised limits:

Men and women who regularly consume more than 14 units of alcohol per week are recommended to spread out their drinking over three days or more.

A pub measure (25ml) of spirits or almost half a pint of regular-strength beer constitutes one unit of alcohol.

Even if you have a history of heavy drinking, cutting back or ceasing will have significant short- and long-term advantages for your liver and general health.

FAQs
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What are the health risks associated with smoking and alcohol consumption?
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Are women more susceptible to the harmful effects of smoking?
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What is spirometry, and how often should it be performed?
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