High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke in adults, but the prevention of these conditions begins during childhood. While most cases of high blood pressure in children younger than 10 are the result of another medical conditions, more and more are being attributed to environmental factors, such as being overweight, eating a poor diet, and exposure to tobacco smoke.
Second Hand Smoke Causes Damage to Blood Vessels
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Heidelberg in Germany is the latest to identify another health risk factor caused by exposure to tobacco smoke. Parents who smoke around their young preschool-aged children may be increasing their risk of having higher blood pressure at that age compared to children whose parents do not smoke.
The study included over 4,000 children between the ages of 4 and 7 who participated in the Heidelberg Kindergarten Blood Pressure Project. Between February 2007 and October 2008, researchers gathered questionnaires from the parents of these children on their smoking habits. Just over 28% of fathers and 20% of mothers smoked.
Kids exposed to nicotine and tobacco smoke at home had a 21% greater chance of having high systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading), even after adjusting for risk factors such as obesity and family history of hypertension. Mothers appeared to have a greater effect on their kids’ blood pressure than fathers, possibly because they were more likely to smoke at home.
Cigarette smoking – or primary tobacco exposure - is known to damage blood vessel walls and speed the process of atherosclerosis, leading to an increased risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure). In addition, nicotine raises blood pressure by constricting blood vessels. About 30% of all deaths from heart disease in the US are directly related to cigarette smoking.
Even second-hand exposure to cigarette smoke can cause profound blood vessel damage, according to a previous study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology. A mere 30 minutes of exposure greatly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Smoking adds to other risk factors, said Giacomo D. Simonetti MD, who is now an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital at the University of Bern in Switzerland. “Average blood pressure increased in proportion to the cumulative number of risk factors present. Removing avoidable risk factors as soon as possible will help reduce the risk for heart disease later on and improve the long-term health of children.”
According to the American Cancer Society, about 46,000 non-smoking Americans die from heart disease each year as a result of living with smokers and the second-hand smoke they produce.
Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.