Mom's smoking may put kids at higher risk of COPD in adulthood

The children of mothers who smoke heavily may face a much higher risk for developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as adults, new research suggests.

Mothers who smoke may be increasing the likelihood that their children will develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as adults, suggests a new study from Australia. The research, published online March 10 in the journal respirology, found that the risk was even greater when kids exposed to maternal cigarette smoke took up smoking later in life.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, COPD is a progressively worsening illness that greatly compromises a person’s ability to breathe. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD, which is now the third leading cause of death around the world, the researchers said. Symptoms can include a nagging cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing. When it gets severe, the disease includes difficulty catching your breath, blue or gray lips, a fast heartbeat, swelling in the feet, and weight loss.

To see how COPD risk related to parental smoking patterns, the authors reviewed surveys completed in 2004 by more than 5,700 men and women (average age of 45) who had been participating in a long-running study that began in 1968.

Nearly 1,400 of the survey respondents underwent lung-function tests between 2006 and 2008. The investigators uncovered no evidence of elevated COPD risk among those who had grown up with smoking dads, or moms who smoked less than 20 cigarettes a day.

But those who grew up with mothers who smoked heavily were 2.7 times more likely than others to have a kind of lung impairment that is indicative of COPD. Additional testing revealed that the already elevated risk for COPD seen among offspring who smoked themselves was driven even higher if they had grown up with a mom who smoked heavily.

There were indications that boys might be somewhat more vulnerable to the negative impact of maternal smoking than girls. Author suggested this could be due to a range of gender-based “biological differences” that unfold throughout childhood development.

Regardless, the team said the findings should bolster current recommendations that pregnant women and young mothers should avoid smoking altogether.

Meanwhile, for those whose moms smoked heavily, what can be done to minimize their COPD risk?

Leader of the research said "as there may be a combined effect with other smoking and environmental exposures, it would be advisable for mothers not to smoke, and avoid smoky, dusty and polluted environments where possible. Finally, focussing on the same factors that are important to maintaining good health: don't smoke, exercise, and watch your diet, is the key point."

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