—by Jeff Jurmain, MA
Smokers with high blood pressure may look no further than the tip of their cigarettes to find what may be causing their circulatory issue.
Smoking is a well-known risk factor for heart disease, lung disease, and a wide variety of other health problems. It is the world’s number one most preventable cause of death. Smoking has been found to trigger what’s called “pulmonary arterial hypertension” (PAH) in animals. It’s also known that PAH is common in smokers who have the serious lung ailment called “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”
But the impact of tobacco smoke on the development of PAH in people has not been well studied and is not known. That is where the new study attempted to shed some light.
In a case-controlled study, researchers assessed smoking and secondhand smoke exposure in all patients with PAH and chronic pulmonary hypertension (CTEPH) for a six-year period. They compared data from 91 PAH patients with that of 64 CTEPH patients and nearly 19,000 healthy individuals from a national survey.
They discovered that tobacco smoking was significantly more common in PAH compared to CTEPH and healthy people. This difference was significantly seen in men. PAH patients also smoked longer and heavier compared to CTEPH. In addition, secondhand smoke exposure was significantly longer in PAH-non-smokers compared to controls.
What this means is that smoking may have a direct tie to pulmonary arterial hypertension in men. It is important, because considering smoking as a risk factor for PAH will have implications on how patients are counseled, as well as family members that live with them.
Pulmonary hypertension is high pressure in the arteries that carry blood from your heart to your lungs to pick up oxygen. Its symptoms can present as being short of breath even during as basic an activity as climbing stairs, fatigue, chest pain, and a fast heartbeat. Over time, exercising grows increasingly more difficult.
In PAH, artery walls can tighten or stiffen and blood clots can form. This makes it hard for your heart to push blood past them into the lungs, and pressure in the arteries rises. It is a very serious condition, for which heart failure is the most common cause of death. It has no cure, but treatments can be used to relieve symptoms and slow the disease down.
The name of the game is prevention and, in this case, this means avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke.