New research from LSU Health New Orleans has discovered that chronic exposure to nicotine increases the blood pressure in both the overall circulation in the body as well as in the lungs which can also potentially cause pulmonary hypertension. The study is the first one to show that nicotine exposure alone contributes to high blood pressure.
In addition to hypertension, perpetual nicotine exposure can also alter the shape, function, and size of the blood vessels located in the right chamber of the heart and in the lungs. These findings appear in the May 2020 version of the journal Hypertension.
Previous research has already identified smoking cigarettes as among the biggest contributors to both lung and heart-related conditions. However, the extent to which nicotine can play a part in the development of these health issues is unclear to scientists.
To understand the association, the researchers in the new study used a novel nicotine inhalation model that can be used in lab mice. The model resembles the human version of e-cigarette and cigarette users so that the effects of chronic nicotine exposure on the lungs and the heart and development of general hypertension and pulmonary hypertension can easier to examine.
In accordance with the results of the research, there is an increase in the systemic diastolic blood pressure and systolic blood pressure within seven days of exposure to nicotine.
Read the study here.
The contributing author of the study, Eric Lazartigues, who is also a Professor of Pharmacology at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, explains in the paper “The increase was transient, but was sufficiently long to pose potential health risks in individuals with preexisting cardiopulmonary conditions,”
Remodeling or alterations in the blood vessels has already been associated with pulmonary hypertension. The new findings have added that chronic nicotine exposure can cause muscularization in non-muscular pulmonary arterioles along with an increase in pulmonary vascular resistance and right ventricular systolic pressure.
In addition, the researchers also noted that eight weeks of constant exposure to nicotine led to the enlargement of the right ventricular along with the thickening of its walls. These two factors combined with the rise in blood pressure in the right ventricular systolic pressure significantly elevated the risk for right ventricle failure.
Right ventricle failure is, so far, the leading cause of death in people with pulmonary hypertension. The impact of exposure to nicotine is, somehow, limited to the right side of the heart. The reason for this is not known by the researchers yet.
The use of tobacco is the number one cause of the development of life-threatening diseases in the US, all of which are also preventable. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, thirty-four million people smoked cigarettes on a regular basis in 2018.
Regardless of the link between tobacco use and the development of major health conditions, the use of cigarettes is still common among adults. On the other hand, the majority of the users of the modern-day e-cigarettes or vapes, which were once considered a better alternative to the usual cigarettes, are young adults and teenagers.
The researchers state that the findings of the research can help in raising awareness regarding the use of nicotine-delivery systems and the dangerous effects of using them which include hypertension, heart disease, and pulmonary hypertension.
Secondly, the study may also help in the formulation of control strategies and health policies regarding tobacco use in order to cut down the risk of chronic nicotine exposure and the eventual number of cases of multiple health conditions in the future.