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Smoking Contributes to Back Pain and Ineffective Surgical Treatments

CHICAGO, Nov. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- Smoking cigarettes not only contributes to lung cancer and emphysema, it also leads to back pain and spine problems, according to recent studies and observations from leading neurosurgeons in Chicago.

Dean Karahalios, MD, is encouraging Americans to "kick the habit" during the Nov. 19 Great American Smoke Out, a national nonsmoking day sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Throughout this month, Dr. Karahalios will offer a complimentary booklet for back pain sufferers.

Recent studies show smokers and former smokers are more likely to have more back problems and suffer from chronic back pain than non smokers. In a study published in the July 2008 Deutsches Arzteblatt International, it was determined that smokers and former smokers experienced chronic back problems more frequently than nonsmokers. Physicians attribute it to the nicotine, which restricts the flow of blood to the discs that cushion the spine.

"I have seen a number of failed spinal fusion procedures that could have been avoided if the patient would have stopped smoking," says Dean Karahalios, M.D., spine neurosurgeon at the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch (CINN). "Smoking can also compromise a patient's ability to recover from spinal fusion surgery."

Fifty-two year old Sheree Maddex of Addison, one of Dr. Karahalios' spine patients did get the message and quit smoking. She is genetically predisposed to degenerative disc disease. Her father and son both have severe back problems. She had her first cervical spine fusion in 2001. But things didn't improve, so in 2002, she had her L4 and L5 disc replaced by Dr. Karahalios. Then in 2004, she was surprised to learn she had lung cancer. After she had had her upper right lobe removed, she vowed to throw the cigarettes away forever. But she says, it may not have been soon enough.

"After 18 years, I finally quit," Sheree admits. "I realized that I wasn't getting any healthier and it was keeping me from healing after surgeries."

Sheree says her lung cancer is gone, but she continues to struggle with disc degeneration. She couldn't stand or sit for any prolonged period of time. Last year, Dr. Karahalios fused four discs in her spine, replaced hardware and implanted a titanium cage around a section of her spine to prevent further compression and to help heal the bone fragments. Her pain has subsided after an inordinate amount of time in physical therapy.

Sheree adds, "Dr. Karahalios said it would be a slower recuperation than after my initial surgery, but I listen carefully to everything he says. Every day, I am grateful to be pain-free."

"Sheree has strength and determination," says Dr. Karahalios. "She was smart to quit smoking because she wasn't healing properly. My advice for everyone is: don't smoke, and if you are smoking now, please quit."

To view the video developed by Dr. Karahalios on back pain and smoking or to order the complimentary "Back on Track" booklet, visit

About Dr. Karahalios

Dean Karahalios, MD, is a fellowship-trained neurosurgeon with over ten years of experience practicing in the Chicago area. Dr. Karahalios specializes in the surgical treatment of back and neck pain and degenerative spine conditions. He is highly experienced using minimally invasive spine surgery, including discectomies and spinal fusion, to treat patients with spine problems. In addition, Dr. Karahalios applies the latest technologies to treat his patients, including the cervical artificial disc for neck and arm pain, the X-STOP for lumbar spinal stenosis, annular repair devices to prevent future disc herniations, as well as the Novalis system to treat tumors of the spine. Dr. Karahalios currently sees patients in Chicago and Vernon Hills, and effective December 7th, will move his practice in Chicago to Skokie. He performs surgery at Evanston Hospital and Skokie Hospital, both part of the NorthShore University Health System. Dr. Karahalios is a Chicago native and currently lives with his family in Lake Forest. For more information on Dr. Karahalios, please visit or to schedule an appointment, please email

SOURCE Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch

SOURCE Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch
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