The risks of smoking are well known, and include increased blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer, among others. It has also been well established that mothers who smoke during pregnancy increase the risk of complications and put the health of their unborn child in jeopardy. Some of the complications that can occur as a result of smoking during pregnancy are placenta previa, placental abruption, miscarriage, and gestational bleeding.
For children born to mothers who smoke, developmental problems affecting respiratory processes and other organ impairments are not uncommon. Further, children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are more likely to develop obesity and diabetes than children whose mothers didn’t smoke during pregnancy, despite the fact the prenatal exposure to maternal cigarette smoking (PEMCS) usually results in low birth weight.
Although these facts are well known, it is estimated that nearly one in five pregnant women still smoke. To better understand the negative impact of PEMCS on organ development, Devasuda Anblagan of the Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Centre at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom recently conducted a study involving 26 pregnant women, half of whom were smokers. The women were evaluated and MRIs were conducted on the fetuses at 22 weeks and again at approximately 35 weeks into the pregnancies.
The results revealed that PEMCS was directly associated with decreased brain and kidney volumes in the fetuses and that these decreases were significantly elevated from time 1 to time 2. Although lung and placental volumes were also decreased in the PEMCS fetuses, the decreased volumes were similar at both time points. Liver volumes appeared to be unaffected by the PEMCS.
Angblagan said, “In conclusion, the results of the present study demonstrate that intrauterine exposure to cigarette smoking is associated with impaired fetal and fetal organ growth, particularly in the kidney and brain.” Efforts at reducing and preventing prenatal smoking should be increased to lower the risk of future organ and developmental problems for the unborn children of smoking mothers.
Anblagan, D., Jones, N.W., Costigan, C., Parker, A.J.J., Allcock, K., et al. (2013). Maternal smoking during pregnancy and fetal organ growth: A magnetic resonance imaging study. PLoS ONE 8(7): e67223. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067223
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