Your Right To Breathe Healthy

Secondhand smoke exposure can increase the risk of heart trouble in never smokers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) You may feel a little timid to ask people not to smoke around you. But asking for your right to breathe fresh air could have an important impact on your health.

A recent study surveyed a group of people who had never smoked about their exposure to secondhand smoke. Participants were also tested for calcium in their arteries, a risk factor for heart disease.

The results of the study showed that one out of every four adults tested showed signs of calcium blockages in his or her coronary arteries.

The authors noted that exposure to secondhand smoke during adulthood had a greater impact than during childhood.

"Don’t hesitate to ask people not to smoke."

Harvey S. Hecht, MD, FACC, Director of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography at Lenox Hill Heart and Vascular Institute of New York, led a study looking at cardiovascular damage in people exposed to secondhand smoke.

Calcium deposits in the arteries that pump blood from the heart to the rest of the body can get in the way of proper blood flow. The presence of calcium, or calcification, in the arteries of the heart can be an early sign of heart disease.

For this study, the researchers looked at 3,098 people who had never smoked (never smokers) between the ages of 40 and 80 years who were already registered in the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute-International Early Lung Cancer Action Program.

Researchers were looking for signs of coronary artery calcium from secondhand smoke exposure in people who never smoked.

Each participant was asked about secondhand tobacco smoke exposure during childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

Each participant was scanned for the presence of calcium in his or her coronary arteries. A total of 24 percent of participant scans showed signs of coronary artery calcium.

The levels of calcium in the coronary arteries were classified as minimal, low, moderate and high. Levels of secondhand smoke exposure were classified as low, moderate and high.

Low-level secondhand smoke exposure increased the odds of developing coronary artery calcium by 1.5 times.

High-level secondhand smoke exposure nearly doubled the odds of developing coronary artery calcium.

For every 10 years of exposure, the odds of developing calcium increased by one. That is to say, after 20 years of exposure, the odds of developing calcium doubled. And after 30 years, the odds tripled.

Men had two and a half times the risk of developing calcium in their arteries compared to women. Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and kidney disease also increased the odds of coronary artery calcium.

The authors said that secondhand smoke exposure during adulthood had a greater impact on the development of coronary artery calcium than secondhand smoke exposure during childhood.

This study was presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 62nd Annual Scientific Session in March and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 17, 2013
Last Updated:
March 19, 2013