It’s heart-breaking to watch friends’ and family’s health go up in smoke, but living with smokers has shocking effects on your heart too…

Being cooped up in a home with smokers is bad news for your heart, even if you never light up.

Research has found that continuous indoor exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke triggers changes in the heart’s electrical activity, known as cardiac alternans. This may predict cardiac arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death.

The UC Davis Health researchers believe that the study, conducted in mice, suggests that second-hand smoke exposure alters cells that regulate how the heart beats.

Second-hand smoke exposure alters cells that regulate how the heart beats

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“As tobacco use continues to decrease, research on its effects among nonusers also is declining,” said lead author Crystal Ripplinger, associate professor of pharmacology at UC Davis Health.

“Smoking is still a leading cause of preventable illness in the U.S., and bystanders are still exposed to smoking in cars, homes, casinos and when they travel to places with fewer tobacco-smoke protections,” Ripplinger added. “It’s important to continually define the health effects of those unintended exposures.”

Testing smoke levels similar to public areas

For the study, mice were exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke in a chamber specifically designed to test the health effects associated with inhaled toxins. The smoke levels were set to be similar to those found in public areas where smokers are present.

Following four, eight and 12 weeks of exposure for six hours a day, five days a week, the animals’ hearts were tested using high-speed imaging and electrocardiograms for changes in electrical activity.

To test susceptibility to arrhythmias, hearts were paced at fast heart rates. They also were tested for levels of calcium, which regulates heart contraction and contributes to abnormal rhythms.

The researchers found that hearts from mice exposed to filtered air responded normally, but the hearts from mice exposed to second-hand smoke could not tolerate fast rates, especially at 12 weeks of exposure.

They also found that calcium levels in these hearts did not respond quickly enough, causing beat-to-beat instability, or cardiac alternans.

“The high incidence of cardiac alternans is particularly concerning because we know that patients with this condition are at significantly higher risk for arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death,” Ripplinger said. “Better understanding of this underlying pathology and determining whether these changes are reversible if exposure stops are important areas for future study.”

Source: University of California – Davis Health via

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