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Published On: Thu, Oct 29th, 2015

Smoking may affect women’s fertility: Military researcher

The risks to human health from smoking are well documented: damage to the lungs and heart, increased chances of stroke and various cancers throughout the body. Women face additional, unique health risks. Dr. Angeline Lazarus, staff pulmonologist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, said the most obvious risk to women is in reproduction.

Image/CDC

Image/CDC

“People who smoke may have fertility issues, because smoking can affect their ability to conceive,” she said, adding that smoking also affects their babies if they are able to get pregnant. “It can cause premature birth or low birth weights, certain birth defects, such as cleft pallets and complications with the placenta that passes nutrients from mother to child.”

Lazarus, a retired Navy doctor now working as a civilian, said there are more women in the military than when she entered 40 years ago. As with men in the military, women’s smoking rates are higher than their civilian counterparts. Lazarus said that could be due to the peer pressure women in the military get from the overall higher smoking instances for all military members. She said the key is education and the earlier the better.

“Education [is important] right from the time they get into the military,” she said. But too often, when women give up smoking for a pregnancy, they unfortunately take it up again after the baby is born. “Then they are exposing the baby to secondhand smoke, and that has a long-term effect on the child.”

There are resources available to help women and men to stop smoking. The military’s ucanquit2.org website provides a variety of stop smoking tools, including information about local tobacco cessation programs and even a 24/7 live support chat option. Lazarus also pointed out that women need to be aware of challenges their own bodies might pose in trying to quit smoking.

“The timing of starting a smoking cessation program is important,” said Lazarus, recommending women start after their latest period. “It’s very difficult during the menstrual cycle or pre-menstrual cycle because of hormonal challenges.”

Lazarus added that women need to be aware that quitting smoking could prompt them to eat more and gain weight, which can serve as a major disincentive for quitting smoking. Diets need to be adjusted accordingly.

She noted women can be more receptive to counseling and support, perhaps because of the impact of smoking on reproduction for women.

Once anyone quits smoking, there are improvements in his or her health. Lazarus said those who quit smoking can see improvements in lung function within six months, as well as reducing risks of cardio-vascular disease over a longer period of time. She said it’s just a matter of starting and sticking with it.

“The earlier women quit smoking the better it is for them in the long run,” said Lazarus. “We just need to educate them early of the dangers.”

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