Exposure To Second Hand Smoke In Utero May Thicken Arteries

The effects of second hand smoke in children of women who smoked while pregnant have been longed documented for years.   Learning disorders, behavioral problems, lower IQs, an increased chance of heart defects and risk of premature arrival are just a few of the issues that research has found in the past.  Now, a new study, which was published in yesterday’s issue of the journal Pediatrics, has found that exposing a baby to smoke while in utero may thicken arterial walls,  thus increasing their risk of developing obesity and heart disease.

During the small study researchers in the Netherlands looked at  259 children to determine the effect of smoking on the thickness of their carotid artery and its elasticity.

What they found wasn’t surprising.  Children of mothers who smoked throughout their pregnancies had significantly thicker and more rigid arteries at five years of age than those from moms who had not smoked.  Sadly, the arteries were the thickest in children whose parents had both smoked during the pregnancy. They were found to be nearly 28 microns thicker and 21% stiffer than those of children whose parents didn’t smoke during pregnancy.

Smoking during pregnancy was defined as having at least one cigarette per day for the entire pregnancy.

Uiterwaal, an associate professor of clinical epidemiology at the Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care at the University Medical Center Utrecht, Netherlands, says, “with our findings, we think that smoking in pregnancy does play an independent role, although we know that exposure of children to [secondhand] smoke is damaging in many areas.”

“Smoking in pregnancy is bad for many reasons for the mother and certainly also for the child,” Uiterwaal says. “Our findings may well be another argument to quit during pregnancy. Many women do quit as soon as they know they’re pregnant, but not all do.”

In children whose mothers had not smoked in pregnancy but resumed after their birth, the arteries were not found to be thicker.

Researchers assessed the children through ultrasound at four weeks of age and then again at five years old.

“Exposure of children to parental tobacco smoke during pregnancy affects their arterial structure and function in early life,” The authors said.

“Moreover, there was a clear positive trend between the number of cigarettes smoked by mothers in pregnancy and adverse vascular health, a finding that adds to the credibility of gestational smoking being causally related to offspring vascular damage.”

The current study is part of a large population-based birth study that started in December 2001 and is still ongoing.

Related Articles:


About the author

Lisa Arneill

Founder of Growing Your Baby and World Traveled Family. Canadian mom of 2 boys, photo addict, lover of bulldogs, and museumgoer. Always looking for our next vacation spot!

Leave a Comment