Why Quit Smoking With Lupus?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2020

Smoking cigarettes or vaping carries particular risks for anyone with lupus. Smoking creates a cascade of changes in the body, from the heart and vascular system (blood vessels) to the kidneys, liver, and bones.1-6

Why are cigarettes so bad for lupus?

Several studies have shown that smokers, and especially smokers with lupus, have higher levels of certain antibodies in their bloodstream. Higher levels of these antibodies are tied to developing lupus, having more active lupus, and developing more serious complications from lupus.1-2

Researchers know that cigarettes contain more than 4,000 chemicals, and many cause cancer and other serious health issues, including nicotine, carbon monoxide, cyanide, arsenic, formaldehyde, and ammonia. These chemicals are also used in nail polish remover, insecticides, insect and rat poison, and wood varnishes.3

The research on vaping focuses on all smokers, not just those with lupus, but early studies indicate that vaping is just as harmful as cigarette smoking.4

How smoking makes lupus worse

Here are a few of the ways smoking complicates lupus:

It increases cardiovascular risks

People with lupus who take steroids long-term tend to develop heart disease 20 to 30 years earlier than others. Smoking increases the risks of heart attacks in diabetics, heart disease in general, blood clots, and strokes. It also contributes to blood vessel spasms which can magnify Raynaud’s syndrome and lupus vasculitis (narrowing of the blood vessels).6

It increases blood pressure

Smoking is linked to higher blood pressure, which puts more strain on the kidneys. People with lupus nephritis who smoke progress to end-stage kidney disease almost twice as fast as those who do not smoke.6

It leads to more skin disease

Studies have shown that the rashes and skin lesions of lupus are more active in smokers. It may also increase hair loss and premature gray hair.2,5

It makes antimalarials less effective

A study in North Carolina found that smoking interferes with how well antimalarial drugs work. This means that the most common medicine used to treat lupus works less well in smokers.5 Smoking also makes you more likely to catch respiratory infections.6

Tips to help you stop smoking

It is hard to quit smoking, and it may take several tries, but the rewards are huge. Within minutes of your last cigarette, your heart rate lowers. Hours after your last cigarette, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal. Within a month, coughing and shortness of breath will improve. Years later, your additional risk of heart disease is significantly reduced.

To improve your chances of success, it helps to create a plan for how you will stop smoking. Some tips that other former smokers have found helpful include:

  • Know your smoking triggers so you can plan to avoid those or change your response to the triggers.
  • Talk to your doctor about using a nicotine patch or other replacement therapy, or medication to reduce cravings.
  • Enlist a friend and family member for support or join a local support group.
  • Set a date for quit day and stick to it.
  • Get rid of any remaining cigarettes, ashtrays, and lighters.
  • Stock things to chew on, such as gum, hard candy, mints, straws, or toothpicks.
  • Develop a list of things to do to distract yourself from the cravings. Some people occupy their hands, others go for a walk, or take deep breaths.
  • Reward yourself for your success with a massage, new clothes, a new book, or getting the house or car cleaned.3

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