May 24, 2022

Mehrdad Arjomandi, MD

Meddling in the affairs of heart and lungs: How secondhand tobacco smoke affects the complex interactions between heart and lungs.

We know that exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke – even in the distant past – is associated with reduced exercise capacity and abnormal lung function with air trapping in the lungs. However, the cardiovascular health effects of remote exposure to secondhand smoke are less clear. In a new study, which was funded by a research award from the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute and published in the BMJ Open Respiratory Research (https://bmjopenrespres.bmj.com/content/9/1/e001217.long), Arjomandi and colleagues found that past secondhand smoke exposure was associated with exercise capacity due to effects on both the lungs and the heart.  They evaluated the health effects of remote exposure to secondhand smoke in nearly 250 never-smoking flight attendants who had worked in smoky aircraft cabin before smoking was banned on commercial airlines. They found the secondhand smoke exposure was associated with reduced exercise capacity both because of direct effects on cardiac output, also because air trapping in the lungs affected the heart. These findings suggest the presence of subtle cardiopulmonary pathology related to prolonged past exposure to secondhand smoke impairs the oxygen carrying machinery, which could be disadvantageous during the times of increased stress or disease.  

This study brings a deeper understanding of how secondhand smoke exposure continues to affect the heart, lungs and exercise capacity years later. 

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