Vaping may be as bad for the heart as smoking cigarettes

Two new studies presented to the American Heart Association have shown that vaping can damage the heart in a similar way to smoking.

Spike in heart rate

Scientists found that people who vape experience a spike in their heart rate as well as their blood pressure in a similar way to people who smoke traditional cigarettes.

Nearly 400 people were recruited for a study between March 2019 and March 2022. Of these, 164 were vapers, compared with 117 smokers and 114 people who did neither. The researchers recorded heart rate, blood pressure, the diameter of the brachial artery in the arm and heart rate variability before vaping and smoking as well as 15 minutes afterwards. The results showed that people who vaped and those who smoked cigarettes had a pulse four beats per minute faster after a vape or smoke, whereas there was no change for the non-users. Blood pressure also increased from approximately 122/72 mm Hg to approximately 127/77 mm Hg after vaping or smoking, whereas there was no change for non-smokers or non-vapers.

Worrisome changes in heart

“Immediately after vaping or smoking, there were worrisome changes in blood pressure, heart rate, heart rate variability and blood vessel tone (constriction),” said lead study author Dr Matthew Tattersall, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine.

"These findings suggest worse cardiovascular disease risk factors right after vaping or smoking and activation of the sympathetic nervous system may play a role in the adverse responses seen immediately after using e-cigarettes and after exercise testing 90 minutes later” Dr Tattersall added.

Reduced exercise performance

A second study found vapers had worse exercise performance than non-smokers and that it was similar to that of smokers.

"These studies add to the growing body of science that shows similar cardiovascular injury among people who use e-cigarettes and those who smoke combustible cigarettes,” said Dr Aruni Bhatnagar, Professor of Medicine, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Louisville.

"Additionally, it shows this cardiovascular risk is seen even among younger people who have a shorter history of nicotine use.

“People should know that e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes contain addictive nicotine and toxic chemicals that may have adverse effects on their cardiovascular system and their overall health.”

Exposure to volatile organic compounds

A paper was also presented at the conference from Boston University showing that electronic cigarettes may lead to exposure to volatile organic compounds that may negatively affect cardiovascular health in a similar manner to smoking traditional cigarettes.

Study lead author Dr Sana Majid said: "Pod-based electronic cigarettes are commonly marketed to youth and young adults, as well as people attempting to quit or reduce smoking regular cigarettes. "However, the long-term health effects of using these novel tobacco products are unknown, which is why we conducted this study." 

The study on 106 adults aged 18-45 years found both vapers and smokers had eight per cent higher blood pressure compared with non-smokers and increased heart rates. Dr Majid said: "Our findings demonstrate that pod-based e-cigarette use had long and short-term effects on the vascular system in healthy young adults, including in those who have only smoked e-cigarettes and have never smoked combustible cigarettes.

"These results indicate that e-cigarettes release chemicals that are toxic to blood vessels and the use of pod-based e-cigarettes may be associated with harm.

Three million vapers

The use of e-cigarette products has surged among young adults in recent years, and it is estimated that there are now over three million adult vapers in the UK.

Dr Majid added: "Youth and young adults should avoid using any tobacco products including pod-based e-cigarettes because they may adversely affect blood vessel health.

"Setting regulations that make it more difficult for youth to start using e-cigarettes is an important part of achieving a tobacco-free future.”

Do your own research into heart conditions

Cardiologist, Dr Oliver Segal explains that it is important for patients to understand the risks and to try to do some research on any concerns around heart conditions, especially to inform you of questions you might like to ask in a consultation. Write these down, as many people will forget everything as they walk through the door. Doctors who are put off by the patient who brings along a long list of questions is in the wrong business! Visits to a cardiologist are often the most important event in a person’s life at that time.

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A blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart. Apart from the pulmonary artery and umbilical artery, all arteries carry oxygenated blood. Full medical glossary
A fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. Full medical glossary
The pressure of blood within the arteries. Full medical glossary
Disease of the heart and blood vessels, usually due to atherosclerosis. Full medical glossary
The body system consisting of the heart and blood vessels. Full medical glossary
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The system that gathers and stores information and is in overall control of the body. The brain and spinal cord form the central nervous system. Full medical glossary
An addictive substance found in tobacco and nicotine replacement therapies. Full medical glossary
Relating to blood vessels. Full medical glossary