In what researchers are describing as the first study of its kind, researchers from the University of California San Francisco revealed that vaping e-cigarettes can put users at risk of serious longterm health effects. The research marks a major departure from the recent health warnings on vaping, which center around a short-term lung injury known as EVALI (more than 2,300 individuals have been diagnosed since August).
Instead, this research — which measured the health effects of vaping in 32,000 Americans — provides evidence that vaping e-cigarettes may impact an individual’s health later on. The study, based on data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH), concludes that even those who seem healthy in the midst of vaping may be 1.3 times more likely to develop chronic lung disease.
Here, to shed more light on the researchers’ findings, are five potential longterm consequences that users should know about.
While not as serious as some of the other risks, asthma can be difficult to manage. A chronic respiratory disease, it is characterized by a narrowing of the lungs that makes it difficult to inhale and expel air. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing. The CDC estimates that as many as 25 million Americans have asthma, which can be treated with medication, but flare-ups are not uncommon. The UCSF study isn’t the first to connect vaping and asthma. A 2018 study published in the British Medical Journal found evidence that vaping fuels widespread inflammation in the lungs, which can be a precursor to asthma.
Much like asthma, bronchitis is fueled by inflammation of the airwaves —specifically the bronchial tubes, which carry oxygen from the mouth to the lungs. When these become inflamed they can fill with mucus, causing a cough, chest pain and difficulty breathing. Although you may have experienced some of these symptoms during a cold (what’s known as acute bronchitis), that condition is one brought on by a virus or bacteria which usually clears up within 10 days. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is incurable and flares repeatedly over time. A study released this July by the American Thoracic Society found that vaping e-cigarettes can cause what’s known as “mucociliary dysfunction,” or inability to clear mucus from the airwaves. This breakdown can lead to multiple different chronic lung conditions, including bronchitis.
Brought to public attention through anti-cigarette smoking campaigns, emphysema is a condition in which the air sacs of the lungs (or alveoli) become chronically inflamed, hindering an individual’s ability to breathe normally. Unlike some chronic lung diseases, emphysema gets progressively worse. The Mayo Clinic explains: “Over time, the inner walls of the air sacs weaken and rupture — creating larger air spaces instead of many small ones. This reduces the surface area of the lungs and, in turn, the amount of oxygen that reaches your bloodstream.”
One of the early studies connecting emphysema and e-cigarettes was released in 2019. In it, researchers from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine tested the lung fluid of smokers, vapers and non-smokers and found that those who vaped had increased levels of an enzyme that is linked to emphysema.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
When one or more of the lung diseases above becomes chronic, doctors refer to the condition by an overarching term: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD. Much like the individual conditions that cause COPD, the main symptoms are shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, mucus buildup and chest tightness. The lung damage that occurs with COPD worsens over time, sometimes requiring supplemental oxygen. The first study to draw a link between COPD and vaping was released by the American Thoracic Society in May 2018. In it, researchers concluded that e-cigarette users were “twice as likely to have COPD” than those who do not vape.
Although not a feature of the study released Monday, e-cigarettes have long been connected to an increased risk of heart disease. Based on a study from researchers at the University of California San Francisco released in February 2018, smoking e-cigarettes may actually double an individual’s chances of having a heart attack. When vaping is combined with regular cigarettes, the individual’s risk increased five-fold. Heart attacks — caused by lack of blood flow to the heart — are marked by symptoms like chest pain, tightness in the chest and sudden fatigue.
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