Smoking is proven to be harmful to health on a variety of levels. Tobacco use is currently the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2013, the CDC statistics revealed that 17.8% of American adults were smokers, the equivalent to 42.1 million people. However, this habit kills 480,000 people every year in the U.S. alone, over 41,000 of which are related to secondhand smoke exposure.

Smoking is estimated to increase the risk for coronary heart disease and stroke by 2 to 4 times, and of lung cancer by more than 25 times. Numerous other conditions are related to smoking, including pulmonary hypertension (PH), a rare but severe disease characterized by high blood pressure in the lungs. The pulmonary arteries of patients who suffer from PH become narrowed and thickened, making it difficult for the heart to properly pump the blood into the lungs.

How Smoking Causes The Development Of Pulmonary Hypertension

“Cigarette smoke is known to be associated with pulmonary hypertension in humans and in animal models. Although the etiology of pulmonary hypertension in smokers is not understood, recent work has suggested a role for inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) in inducing oxidative stress,” as explained in the study “Pulmonary hypertension and vascular oxidative damage in cigarette smoke exposed eNOS(-/-) mice and human smokers,” which is authored by Wright JL, Zhou S, Churg A, from the Department of Pathology, of the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada.

Cigarette smoking highly increases pulmonary hypertension mainly due to the reactive nitrogen species and consequent oxidative vascular damages, as concluded by the authors. In addition, smoking is the greatest contributor to the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which are diseases correlated with secondary pulmonary hypertension. Therefore, smokers who develop pulmonary hypertension are likely to also suffer from other lung conditions.

How Continuing Smoking Impacts Patients With Pulmonary Hypertension

There is currently no cure for pulmonary hypertension, but there are treatments that help ease the symptoms of the disease and increase life expectancy. Medications and therapies are, however, not enough and lifestyle alterations are also required to patients. Quitting smoking is one of the most important alterations to be made on the health of PH patients, due to the major impact that the habit has on overall health. When patients are not able to give up smoking, the progression of the disease tends to be faster, while the quality of life is decreased.

Patients who suffer from pulmonary hypertension and continue to smoke are more likely to have exacerbated symptoms, including shortness of breath (dyspnea), fatigue, dizziness or fainting spells (syncope), pain or pressure in the chest, swelling (edema) in the ankles, legs and abdomen (ascites), irregular heart beat and difficulties in exercising or even performing daily activities. Quit smoking is, however, not easy, reason why patients should their physicians help to design a smoking cessation plan or to prescribe medication for that purpose.

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Patrícia holds her PhD in Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases from the Leiden University Medical Center in Leiden, The Netherlands. She has studied Applied Biology at Universidade do Minho and was a postdoctoral research fellow at Instituto de Medicina Molecular in Lisbon, Portugal. Her work has been focused on molecular genetic traits of infectious agents such as viruses and parasites.
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Özge has a MSc. in Molecular Genetics from the University of Leicester and a PhD in Developmental Biology from Queen Mary University of London. She worked as a Post-doctoral Research Associate at the University of Leicester for six years in the field of Behavioural Neurology before moving into science communication. She worked as the Research Communication Officer at a London based charity for almost two years.
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Patrícia holds her PhD in Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases from the Leiden University Medical Center in Leiden, The Netherlands. She has studied Applied Biology at Universidade do Minho and was a postdoctoral research fellow at Instituto de Medicina Molecular in Lisbon, Portugal. Her work has been focused on molecular genetic traits of infectious agents such as viruses and parasites.