Short- and long-term effects of smoking on arterial wall properties in habitual smokers

M J Kool, A P Hoeks, H A Struijker Boudier, R S Reneman, L M Van Bortel
Journal of the American College of Cardiology 1993, 22 (7): 1881-6

OBJECTIVES: This study investigated the short-term effects of smoking on hemodynamic function and distensibility and compliance of large arteries in habitual smokers. In addition, the effect of smoking was not measured in nonsmokers, but vessel wall properties were compared between smokers and nonsmokers (basal state).

BACKGROUND: Smoking is a well known risk factor for atherosclerosis. Loss of distensibility and compliance of large arteries may play a role in the onset of atherosclerosis.

METHODS: The distensibility and compliance coefficients of the common carotid and brachial arteries were determined from the arterial wall displacement during systole and the end-diastolic diameter by using a vessel wall movement detector and from the pulse pressure as assessed in the upper arm. Cardiac function (cardiac output, stroke volume) was measured with Doppler echocardiography. Systemic vascular resistance was calculated as mean arterial pressure divided by cardiac output.

RESULTS: In habitual smokers, smoking one cigarette caused a sharp increase in blood pressure (6%) and heart rate (14%). Cardiac index increased (16%), mainly because of the marked increase in heart rate. Stroke and systemic vascular resistance indexes did not change significantly. Smoking enhanced forearm blood flow after wrist occlusion (17%), but total forearm blood flow was unchanged, suggesting an increase in muscle blood flow and a decrease in skin flow. Because of higher blood pressure, the diameter of the elastic common carotid artery increased by 3% (passive phenomenon). Distensibility of the carotid artery decreased (7%), and as a result, carotid compliance was preserved. In contrast, despite higher blood pressure, the diameter of the muscular brachial artery did not change, suggesting an increased vascular tone. Brachial distensibility and compliance decreased (18% and 19%, respectively). Habitual smokers were comparable to nonsmokers with regard to blood pressure, cardiac function, vascular resistance and vessel wall properties of large arteries. Heart rate was higher in habitual smokers (14%).

CONCLUSIONS: These data indicate that in habitual smokers, smoking one cigarette causes short-term increases in arterial wall stiffness that might be harmful to the artery and increase the risk for plaque rupture. Except for a higher heart rate, no obvious long-term effect of smoking was observed on hemodynamic variables and arterial stiffness. Because acute cardiovascular events are mainly due to plaque rupture, the short-term effects of smoking might be a more important risk than long-term effects for these acute ischemic events.

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