Study: Exposure to secondhand smoke, even in womb, linked to heart problems later

WASHINGTON — There is new evidence of the dangers of secondhand smoke — even to babies in the womb.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco say people who were exposed to secondhand smoke as little children or in utero by a smoking parent are far more likely to develop an irregular heartbeat years later than those who were not exposed.

The condition, known as atrial fibrillation, can be serious, and can lead to stroke or heart failure. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, it’s basically a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system that prevents the upper and lower chambers from working in sync.

The link between smoking and A-fib, as it is commonly known, is established fact. But this study — published in the journal HeartRhythm — is believed to be the first to look at a possible connection between atrial fibrillation and secondhand smoke.

The research team crunched data on 4,976 adults from around the world who took part in an online heart health survey. Twelve percent of the participants reported having atrial fibrillation. When they dug a little deeper, the researchers found those who were exposed to secondhand smoke in the womb or during childhood were 40 percent more likely to develop A-fib down the road.

The study authors say the results were a bit of a surprise, and they caution much more research is needed to confirm their findings.

The data they used came from the Health e-Heart Study, which is still open online. Almost 30,000 people in more than 90 countries and every state in the U.S. have signed on, with a goal of ultimately getting one million participants.

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