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Do Women Have More Reasons to Quit Smoking?


The following is an Editorial Resource from YourTotalHealth.

Do Women Have More Reasons to Quit Smoking?Smoking is bad for everyone’s lungs and hearts, but for women, it adds special hazards. “Women are more at risk from the serious health effects of smoking than men,” says Sharon S. Allen, M.D., Ph.D., professor of family medicine at the University of Minnesota. “Smoking can affect the female reproductive system, causing irregular periods, infertility issues—even with in vitro fertilization—miscarriage, low birth-weight babies, early menopause and more severe menopause symptoms than in women who don’t smoke.”

The risks don’t end there. “Women smokers are more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men,” says Thomas J. Glynn, Ph.D., director of cancer science and trends with the American Cancer Society. “And postmenopausal smokers are more likely to have lower bone density and a higher risk of broken bones, such as hip fractures.” Your risk of emphysema and chronic bronchitis, also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can increase by as much as tenfold. “For men and women who smoke the same amounts, after about age 45, women appear to be at greater risk of COPD,” says Glynn.

Another significant factor for women is that they’re usually the primary caregivers for children. “We know that parents who smoke have kids who will smoke,” says Norman Edelman, M.D., chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. “So you’ve got a responsibility to your kids, not just yourself, to stay healthy.” Kids exposed to secondhand smoke are also at a higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory and ear infections and severe asthma.

Why women relapse

Once any smoker quits, the challenge is staying stopped. Some research indicates that women respond more readily to social cues that are associated with smoking, such as being around friends who smoke or being in settings in which they used to smoke, like a bar. “These kinds of cues seem to precipitate a relapse in women more than in men,” says Allen. One way to deal with such triggers is to recognize that you can manage cravings with some preplanning.

Another reason often cited for relapse is weight gain. “Fear of gaining weight may cause more women than men to abandon a quit attempt,” says Glynn. “But the weight gain after quitting is usually between 6 and 12 pounds. To put that into perspective, you’d have to gain nearly 100 pounds after quitting in order to face the same health risks as when you were still smoking. The research shows that most smokers are able to deal with the weight gain after they have become confirmed nonsmokers.”

How to stay quit

For both men and women, the most important components to staying quit are perseverance and motivation. “Many people think that quitting is simply a matter of willpower,” says Saul Shiffman, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. “But quitting for good requires multiple efforts and figuring out what works for you. You don’t learn to ride a bike on the first attempt. It’s a process.”

Giving yourself the best possible tools to succeed is part of the solution: While more than 70 percent of smokers say they want to quit, only 4 to 7 percent are successful in a given year if they try without the help of counseling and/or nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) or drugs. Medications such as bupropion, varenicline and NRT in the form of a patch, gum, nasal spray, lozenge or inhaler can double your chances of quitting. “It’s not shameful to get help when quitting is the best possible thing you can do for your health,” says Shiffman.

One element of a quit plan that’s particularly important for women: support. “What works best is to use one of the FDA-approved medications and receive counseling,” says Glynn. “Women are more successful in quitting when they have support during their quit attempt, such as counseling, a support group and help from family and friends.” And by using all of the techniques available, you’ll be that much more likely to make this quit attempt the one that lasts a long, healthy lifetime.

Review Date: December 17, 2009

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