Smoking’s enormous toll on women’s health
No doubt, women know the dangers of smoking. The American Heart Association warns smoking cigarettes is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Regardless of male or female, anyone who picks up the habit risks developing many chronic disorders including heart disease and cancer. But women who smoke face unique challenges.
Annually, cigarette smoking kills an estimated 201,770 women in the U.S. In 2015, 13.6 percent of women in the U.S. smoked, compared to 16.7 percent of men. Today, with a much smaller gap between men’s and women’s smoking rates, women share a much larger burden of smoking-related diseases.
Despite warnings directed at teenagers of the dangers of smoking, over 1.5 million teenage girls will still light up.
Even though both women and men who smoke will suffer from the consequences of smoking, it is women who need educated on awareness of their numerous smoking-related health risks uniquely their own.
Here is how smoking affects women and their health:
· Pregnancy and smoking
Studies show that between 12-20 percent of pregnant women smoke, putting themselves and their babies at risk. Over 1,000 babies in the U.S. die each year because their mothers chose to smoke while pregnant. To put it bluntly, smoking and pregnancy simply don’t mix. Women who smoke while pregnant, expose their baby to many harmful chemicals including carbon monoxide. These chemicals limit the baby’s supply of oxygen and the delivery of nutrients. Smoking during pregnancy has also been linked with many health problems including low birth weight, premature birth, and problems with the placenta.
Children born to mothers who continue to smoke often experience more colds, earaches, respiratory problems, asthma, and colic, all requiring more frequent visits to the pediatrician than children born to nonsmokers.
· Oral contraceptives and smoking
Women who use oral contraceptives and who smoke, increase their risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes. It is strongly advisable for women over the age of 35 and who smoke, to not use oral contraceptives.
Even though high blood pressure is not as common of a problem for women using oral contraceptives as it once was, all women using oral contraceptives should have their blood pressure checked every six to 12 months.
· Infertility and smoking
Today, many women are putting off motherhood until they are in their 30s and 40s. For women who smoke, this can put them at a considerable disadvantage of future infertility.
Women smokers only have 72 percent of the fertility of nonsmokers to begin with. They tend to have a more difficult time in conceiving that often requires more than one year to occur. Studies are showing that women smokers have reduced ovulatory response as well as impairment in the fertilization and implantation of the fertilized egg at conception. Chemicals in tobacco may also alter the cervical fluid, making it toxic to sperm making conception difficult to achieve.
· Premature inflammatory disease and smoking
Studies have shown that when compared to women who have never smoked, women who do smoke have a significantly higher risk of pelvic inflammatory disease. Even women who were former smokers but have quit, are still at an elevated risk of the condition. Pelvic inflammatory disease is a painful condition which is an infection caused by bacteria of the female reproductive organs.
· Premature menopause, menstruation, and smoking
Women who started smoking as a teenager, have an three times increased risk of early menopause compared to women who never smoked. Menopause can begin two to three years earlier than nonsmokers.
Problems associated with menstruation such as abnormal bleeding, amenorrhea, and vaginal discharges/infections are also common among women who smoke. Studies have shown the issues of early menopause and menstrual problems are believed to be caused by the toxic effect cigarette smoking has on the ovaries which may lower levels of the hormone estrogen.
· Hormones and smoking
The increased risk of heart disease and stroke are concerns of women who smoke. However, the use of estrogen replacement therapy which can provide beneficial protection to post-menopausal women against the risk of osteoporosis may not be recommended for women smokers due to possible increase of developing cardiovascular disease.
This risk should be assessed by their doctor before beginning any hormone replacement therapy, if a woman smokes.
· Osteoporosis and smoking
All women are at risk of the brittle bone disease of osteoporosis. But women who smoke are significantly affected as smoking causes in increase in bone loss. A women who smokes one pack of cigarettes a day, may experience a loss of bone density equaling five to 10 percent more than nonsmokers by the time they reach menopause. Smoking weakens bones in women posing a threat to their entire skeletal structure. Not only does smoking weaken bones, it can affect a woman’s spinal ligaments, accelerate bone loss, reduce bone cell production, increase severe vertebral disc degeneration, and increase recovery times after surgeries, fractures, and abrasion.
· Cervical cancer and smoking
The development of cervical cancer appears to be significantly higher in women who smoke – research has found an 80 percent greater risk of cervical cancer in women smokers compared to nonsmokers. If a woman with cervical cancer quits smoking or cuts back by at least 75 percent, they may have a higher chance of remission and survival.
Smoking affects cervical cancer as the chemicals found in cervical tissue are also found in cigarettes. These chemicals may weaken the ability of cervical cells to fight off infection possibly creating a breeding ground for abnormal cervical cells to multiply.
· Vulvar cancer and smoking
A type of cancer appearing to occur more frequently in women who smoke is vulvar cancer. Women smokers have about a 40 percent higher risk of developing this cancer which most often affects the inner edges of the labia majora or the labia minora.
Time to quit
The time to quit smoking is now. The longer a woman continues to smoke, the greater the risk to her overall health and well-being. Women can seek help for becoming an ex-smoker by discussing it with her doctor for help and guidance.