Is smoking more harmful to a woman?

Dear Doctor,

I have been smoking for six years now. My friends tell me all sorts of stuff. Is smoking really more dangerous for a woman than it is a man? How so? 




Dear Anne,


Smoking is not at all healthy for men or women.  Nicotine is the main ingredient present in tobacco, which gives rise to addiction when used regularly. Once an individual is addicted, he/she finds it difficult to give up and is exposed to risk of health hazards.  Smoking affects the respiratory system directly, causing chronic bronchitis, repeat respiratory tract infections and lung cancer. It is also a risk factor for breast cancer. 

Smoke of cigarettes causes blackish discolouration of fingers and lips. It contains more than 1000 chemicals which are harmful in multiple ways. They can cause chronic lung damage, allergic reactions, aggravation of asthma and even cancers. Nicotine is a risk factor for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems. It damages the blood vessels of the body resulting in painful muscle cramps while walking, and gangrene in later stages, necessitating amputation of affected limb. The nervous system of the body is also affected by smoking. This manifests as tingling, numbness, and et cetera, abnormal sensations in the limbs, premature brain atrophy causing imbalance and forgetfulness in a person in prime of his life. Smoking reduces immunity of the body, enhancing vulnerability to various infections and in more severe form.

Women are at greater risk of health problems due to smoking. A woman’s body is not able to handle tobacco as efficiently as a man’s body.  Hence, even small quantity smoked, and even for shorter duration, gives rise to addiction and other health issues. These occur with greater intensity.  In a woman, smoking causes premature wrinkling of the face. Black discolouration of finger nails, fingers and lips, occur early and in more severe form, thus affecting the facial beauty. In addition, it causes hormonal disruption resulting in menstrual abnormalities and even infertility. Even if a woman conceives, she is at risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy. There is greater risk of intrauterine death and still birth in later pregnancy. A baby may be born with congenital abnormalities. Therefore, a woman planning to conceive is advised to stop smoking, before becoming pregnant. Quitting it in early pregnancy is also beneficial. 

Dr. Rachna   Pande is a  specialist in internal medicine.

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