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Smoking: Women's Health Perspective


Updated June 22, 2009

Smoking: The Women's Health Perspective

If You Are a Woman, Don't Smoke Cigarettes!

We all have heard the warnings-- cigarettes can cause cancer and increase our risk of heart disease. But the sad fact is that approximately 23 million women in the US (23 percent of the female population) still smoke cigarettes. Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in this country, yet more than 140,000 women die each year from smoking related causes. The highest rate of smoking (27 percent) occurs among women between twenty-five and forty-four.

Despite all the warnings today's teens have heard about the dangers of smoking, the reality is that almost all of the new smokers today are teenagers; over 1.5 million teenage girls smoke cigarettes.

Women smokers suffer all the consequences of smoking that men do such as increased of risk various cancers (lung, mouth, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, kidney, and bladder) and respiratory diseases, but as women we need explicit cognizance about the numerous smoking-related health risks which are uniquely ours. This article explores these risks and, hopefully, provides women smokers the further perception and inducement, perhaps, needed to stop smoking.

Oral Contraceptives and Smoking

Do you use oral contraceptives or another hormonal method of birth control? Women smokers who use oral contraceptives risk serious consequences including increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes. This risk increases with age and women over 35 who smoke should not use oral contraceptives.

Historically, a mild elevation in blood pressure often occurred in pill users. However, blood pressure often returned to normal "prepill" levels once oral contraceptives were discontinued. New studies indicate that high blood pressure is not a common problem for todays Pill users, nonetheless all women using oral contraceptives should have their blood pressure checked every six to twelve months.

Pregnancy and Smoking

Chemicals in tobacco are passed from pregnant mothers through the blood stream to the fetus. These toxic chemicals present serious risks to the unborn child, as well as the mother. According to "Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century," by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, "Smoking during pregnancy is associated with preterm delivery, low birthweight, premature rupture of membranes, placenta previa, miscarriage, and neonatal death. New borns whose mothers smoked during pregnancy have the same nicotine levels in their bloodstream's as adults who smoke, and they go through withdrawal during their first days of life."

Children born to mothers who smoke experience more colds, ear aches, respiratory problems, and illnesses requiring visits to the pediatrician than children born to nonsmokers.

Infertility and Smoking

Is a baby part of your future plans? Many women today delay childbirth until they are in their thirties or even forties, which can cause fertility problems even for nonsmoking women. But women who smoke and delay childbirth are putting themselves at a substantially greater risk of future infertility than nonsmokers.

The fact is women smokers have around 72 percent of the fertility of nonsmokers. When all other factors are equal, it is 3.4 times more likely that smokers will require over one year to conceive.

Increasingly, studies are showing that decreased ovulatory response, as well as the fertilization and implantation of the zygote may be impaired in women who smoke. Thought is also given that chemicals in tobacco may alter the cervical fluid, making it toxic to sperm causing pregnancy to be difficult to achieve.

We can't leave the men out on this one, though. Men smokers are 50 percent more likely to become impotent. Some of the toxic chemicals found in cigarettes may result in gene mutations that can cause miscarriage, birth defects, cancer, and other health problems in their children.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) and Smoking

Pelvic inflammatory disease occurs with 33 percent more frequency in smokers than in nonsmokers. PIDis a painful disease that requires immediate medical intervention and is often a contributing factor in ectopic pregnancies, as well as pelvic adhesions and other fertility problems.

Premature Menopause, Menstruation, and Smoking

Beginning to smoke as a teenager increases a woman's risk of early menopause three times. Smokers often notice symptoms of menopause two to three years earlier than nonsmokers.

Menstrual problems such as abnormal bleeding, amenorrhea (absence of periods), and vaginal discharges / infections are common complaints among women who smoke.

Menstrual abnormalities and early menopause may be caused by a toxic effect on the ovaries or by the significantly lower levels of estrogens noted in many studies of women smokers.

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