Smoking and Buerger’s Disease
Buerger’s disease (also known as thromboangiitis obliterans) affects blood vessels in the body, most commonly in the arms and legs. Blood vessels swell, which can prevent blood flow, causing clots to form. This can lead to pain, tissue damage, and even gangrene (the death or decay of body tissues).1 In some cases, amputation may be required.2
The most common symptoms of Buerger’s disease are:2
- Fingers or toes that appear pale, red, or bluish
- Cold hands or feet
- Pain in the hands and feet that may feel like burning or tingling
- Pain in the legs, ankles, or feet when walking—often located in the arch of the foot
- Skin changes or small painful sores on the fingers or toes
The exact cause of Buerger’s disease is unknown, however tobacco use is strongly linked to its development.3 Researchers believe that chemicals in tobacco may irritate the lining of the blood vessels, causing them to swell.3
Almost everyone diagnosed with Buerger’s disease smokes cigarettes or uses other forms of tobacco, such as cigars and chewing tobacco.3
If you want to prevent getting Buerger’s disease, don’t smoke cigarettes or use any other tobacco products.1
There is no cure for Buerger’s disease. The only way to keep Buerger’s disease from getting worse is to stop using all tobacco products. Medicines don’t usually work well to treat the disease, but can help control the symptoms.2
Surgery may help restore blood flow to some areas.1 It may be necessary to amputate the hand or foot if infection or widespread tissue death occurs.2
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Types of Vasculitis [last updated 2019 October 21; accessed 2022 Feb 7].
- Medline Plus. Thromboangiitis Obliterans [last updated 2022 Feb 4; accessed 2022 Feb 7].
- Mayo Clinic. Buerger’s Disease [last updated 2021 April 7; accessed 2022 Feb 7].
- Text QUITNOW to 333888—Message and data rates may apply
- quitSTART appexternal icon—tips, information, and challenges to help you quit
- 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (Español [Spanish])
- Asian Smokers’ Quitlineexternal icon
- 1-800-838-8917 (中文 (Chinese) [Cantonese & Mandarin])
- 1-800-556-5564 (한국어 [Korean])
- 1-800-778-8440 (Tiếng Việt [Vietnamese])
Rebecca C., age 43, lost all the toes on her right foot to Buerger’s Disease.
“It was hard to believe that smoking was responsible for this. It didn’t make any sense to me.”
Real stories about Buerger’s disease: