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Women's Risk of Peripheral Artery Disease Heightened by Second-Hand Smoke Exposure

Sep 24, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Exposure to second-hand smoke puts women at a significantly higher risk to develop peripheral artery disease (PAD).  According to a Chinese study published in the journal "Circulation", women who were exposed to second-hand smoke either at home or in the workplace had a 67 percent increased risk of PAD compared to those who had no exposure.

PAD is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to the limbs.  People who develop PAD don't receive enough blood flow to keep up with demand. This causes symptoms, most notably leg pain when walking.  PAD can reduce blood flow to the heart and brain, as well as the legs.

Tobacco use has long been tied to the development of PAD, but this study, conducted by researchers at the Chinese PLA General Hospital in Beijing, is the first  to show the adverse effects of secondhand smoke on PAD in women.  For the study, secondhand smoke exposure was defined as exposure to tobacco smoke for at least 15 minutes daily for more than one day every week for at least two years during the past 10 years.

The women covered by the study were 60 years and older and had never smoked. Among the women, 477 (39.5 percent) were exposed to secondhand smoke -- 414 (86.8 percent) at home and 63 (13.2 percent) in the workplace.  Researchers used two different measures to analyze the effects of passive smoking on PAD:

  • Signs of intermittent claudication. This is the clinical diagnosis given for muscle pain (ache, cramp, numbness or sense of fatigue), classically in the calf muscle, which occurs during exercise and is relieved by a short period of rest.
  • Ankle-brachial index. This is a test that measures the ratio of systolic blood pressure at the ankle and at the arm, then calculates the index for each leg.

In addition to increasing PAD risk by 67 percent, the study found that exposure to secondhand smoke increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 69 percent and the risk of ischemic stroke by 56 percent. Overall, there were 271 cases of PAD, 431 cases of coronary disease, and 172 cases of stroke, 109 of which were ischemic stroke.

"This study broadens the finding about the detrimental health effects of passive smoking on heart disease and stroke," senior author Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a news release issued by the American Heart Association.

While the study focused on women, Hu said it's likely that secondhand smoke exposure affects men in the same way.

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