April 2011 - Surprising Smoking-Related Conditions and Diseases
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You already know how dangerous smoking cigarettes or any form of tobacco is, but would you guess these other dangerous side effects?
- Macular Degeneration
- Severe Forms of Tuberculosis
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Various Autoimmune Diseases
- Bone Loss
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Acid Reflux
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By Justine van der Leun
You've heard it all before: Smoking leads to lung cancer, heart disease, stroke. But did you know it can increase your risk of going blind? That smokers are more likely to break their hips? That smoking can even put a damper on your sex life? In fact, there are many surprising ways in which smoking is harmful. Read on to learn some of the little-known effects cigarettes can have on your health.
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of irreversible loss of vision in the developed world -- and smokers are three times more likely to suffer from it.
"Inside your eyes, your lenses are wearing away," says Iyaad Hasan, director of the Tobacco Treatment Center at the Cleveland Clinic. "The theory is that smoking is a vasoconstrictor, which closes the vessels so you don't get enough oxygen to your eyes over the years." The resulting damage to the retina can cause a loss of vision in the center of the eye. And while beta carotene may help ward off macular degeneration, smokers cannot take the vitamin since it increases their risk of lung cancer. The upshot? Just one year after quitting, evidence shows that the chance of developing macular degeneration is reduced by nearly 7 percent.
Severe Forms of Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis is no faraway Victorian woe -- in fact, the potentially deadly disease exists in the U.S. today, with more than 11,000 reported cases in 2009. And smokers are at a heightened risk of contracting a severe form of the pulmonary bacterial infection. A 2008 study suggested that toxic carbon dioxide, present in cigarette smoke, may trigger TB (symptoms may include coughing up blood and fever). "Most people have a strong enough immune system to fight against it," says Hasan. "But smokers' immune systems are down." Vulnerable populations include those in crowded, often rural areas with no insurance and poor health care.
"You're trying to avoid inflammation with rheumatoid arthritis, but a cigarette sends 4,000 chemicals that inflame your body," says Hasan. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune condition in which joints are usually sore and painful. New York University researchers followed 1,405 smokers with RA, finding that the 21.1 percent that eventually quit had fewer tender, swollen joints. And Swedish researchers published a study in 2010 that suggested that smoking accounts for over 33 percent of common RA cases -- and more than half of RA diagnoses in people with a family history of the condition.
Various Autoimmune Diseases
People with all autoimmune diseases should be especially aggressive in their quests to quit smoking. Smoking has been linked to the development of such diseases as lupus, hyperthyroidism and multiple sclerosis, among others. Moreover, the chemicals in cigarettes (ammonia, acetone and formaldehyde, for example) may cause flare-ups of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Smoking can even cut down the effectiveness of medications. "It's an irritant, like if you drank a bottle of Mr. Clean," says Hasan. "We're trying to clear your body out, so why not stop smoking and lower the damage in general?"
"Smoking is a contributing factor in one of every eight hip fractures," says Hasan. Indeed, smoking has been known to be a risk factor for osteoporosis for more than 20 years. A two-decade study found that smokers had a rise in marginal bone loss, compared to nonsmokers. Those who stopped smoking during the course of the study had much less bone loss than those who continued to smoke throughout. "Your bones need oxygen, and the more you smoke, the more you deprive bones of oxygen and the bone demineralizes," says Hasan.
Medical professionals have long suspected that smoking and impotence are related -- and have produced many studies that support the theory. Recently, a Chinese study of more than 7,000 men found a link between the number of cigarettes men smoked and their likelihood of experiencing erectile dysfunction. Researchers even went as far as to suggest that more than 22 percent of all cases of erectile dysfunction may be related to smoking. "It's all about the vessels," says Hasan. "A smoker has a higher chance of developing plaques in vessels, and there are vessels down in that area. So you don't get enough blood flow and now your erection is limp." As well, hypertension and diabetes, which are both linked to smoking, are often thought of as precursors to erectile dysfunction.
Fifteen million Americans suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease -- and one massive 2004 study found that long-time smokers were 70 percent more likely to have the uncomfortable condition than those who had smoked for only a year. The damage may not be reversible, but it is progressive and preventable: Smoking increases acid production in your stomach and irritates a muscular valve that sits atop the stomach, slowly loosening it over time; eventually, when a smoker lies on his side, acid from the stomach can more easily slip out of the valve and into the throat, causing a painful sensation. "People who are smokers usually have some type of heartburn," says Hasan. "Smoking itself is an irritant."
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