Don’t Let 2011 Go Up in Smoke: A Gynecologist's Perspective

"Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it a thousand times." — Mark Twain

Posted on | Lauren Streicher, MD | Comments ()

"Quitting smoking is easy. I've done it a thousand times." — Mark Twain

While kicking the cigarette habit is not the most common New Year’s resolution (losing weight holds that title), it is the resolution that insures the greatest benefit towards a longer, healthier life, especially for women. In addition to the effects smoking has on the lungs and heart, there are a number of obstetric and gynecologic problems that many women are not aware of.

Women planning a future pregnancy should know that smokers have much higher rates of infertility, early aging of eggs and tubal pregnancies. Once pregnant, smokers have a higher risk of complications such as premature labor and placental problems.

But it’s not just about pregnancy. Smoking is responsible for approximately 30% of all cancer-related deaths in the US, including cancers that affect only women, such as cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancers. In addition, women who smoke are at greater risk of anal and bladder cancers.

Smoking is also the culprit behind many non-cancerous conditions such as urinary incontinence, osteoporosis and uterine prolapse. Men who smoke are more likely to be impotent (which affects women indirectly, but profoundly!). And did I mention wrinkling and premature aging?

Studies show that approximately 70% of smokers want to quit. Since motivation is the greatest predictor of success, that number is encouraging. But that doesn’t change that ditching cigarettes is one of the hardest resolutions to stick to. Set a quit date (2012 doesn’t count!) and tell your friends and family that you need their support. A number of websites such as quitnet.org and trytostop.org are also great motivators. Then, turn to one of the many smoking cessation products. Whether you chew gum, put on a patch, spray it in your nose, inhale it, or suck on a lozenge, many of them work in the same way, by supplying nicotine to reduce withdrawal symptoms. There are also non-nicotine options like bupropion (Wellbutrin, Zyban), an antidepressant that has been shown to be a successful aid to stop smoking. The more recently developed pill, varenicline (Chantix™), has been found in multiple studies to be superior to bupropion. It works by stimulating nicotine receptors in the brain to diminish or eliminate nicotine withdrawal symptoms and reduce cigarette cravings. It isn’t magic and it doesn’t work for everyone, but it is currently better than anything else available and could well be the thing that will allow you to finally give up smoking.

Remember that old Virginia Slims ad campaign, “You’ve come a long way baby”? Unfortunately, smoking has made women come a long way in the wrong direction. Start 2011 by eliminating tobacco from your life. As a gynecologist, I can assure you that in addition to your lungs and heart, your bones, bladder, cervix, vulva, vagina and anus will thank you!

Blog written by Lauren Streicher, MD
Dr. Lauren Streicher is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University’s medical...