Smoking and lupus: It's never too late to quit

Lupus Foundation of America

Resource Content

Thanks to a broad range of research studies, it’s clear that smoking complicates and accelerates the ill effects of lupus. It can also lower the effectiveness of medications used to treat lupus. 

More than any lifestyle choice you can make, quitting cigarettes will have the most positive impact on your lupus, and your health in general. 

Q/A: ​How does smoking affect people with lupus?

People with lupus are more susceptible to infections: Respiratory infections are among the most common. Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of pneumococcal pneumonia and chronic bronchitis. Researchers also report that passive smoking, or regular exposure to secondhand smoke, also raises the risk of having this type of pneumonia.
People with lupus on long-term moderate to high doses of prednisone have been found to develop heart disease (atherosclerosis) 20 to 30 years earlier than the general population. It's not uncommon for angina (heart muscle pain) and even heart attacks to occur in people with lupus as young as 30. Smoking increases the risk of coronary artery disease. Smoking also increases the risk of heart attack in diabetics (insulin or non-insulin dependent).
Lupus can affect the blood vessels and circulation in a variety of ways. Raynaud's phenomenon is common in people with lupus and when active, results in poor circulation to the hands and feet. Smoking contributes to blood vessel spasms and can magnify the effect of Raynaud's, making a mild case worse, and could result in severe damage to fingers and toes.

Lupus vasculitis can cause narrowing of blood vessels and reduced blood flow to tissues and organs. Smoking narrows blood vessels and worsens peripheral vascular disease (poor blood supply).

Antiphospholipid antibodies found in people with lupus may increase the risk of serious blood clots and stroke. Smoking also increases the risk of stroke.
Smoking contributes to elevated blood pressure, which worsens kidney disease. Kidney disease in lupus can result in hypertension. A study at Stanford University of individuals with lupus nephritis found that those who smoked progressed to end-stage kidney disease far more quickly than did non-smokers (145 months vs. 273 months).
Smoking has harmful effects on all parts of the digestive system, contributing to such common disorders as heartburn.
The liver breaks down many of the medications used to improve symptoms of lupus. Smoking affects the liver by changing the way it metabolizes drugs and alcohol. In some cases, this may influence the dose of medication necessary to treat an illness.
Lupus can cause hair loss and other skin symptoms. Studies conducted at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have found lupus skin disease is more active in smokers than non-smokers. Studies in mice indicate a link may exist between smoking and both hair loss and premature gray hair.

Although lupus skin disease may be effectively treated with antimalarial medications, smoking has been shown to interfere with the benefits of drugs such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil®) and chloroquine (Aralen®).
Smoking slows bone healing. Meanwhile medications used in the treatment of lupus--such as prednisone, anticonvulsants, antacids containing aluminum, and heparin—increase the risk for fragile bones that lead to osteoporosis.

People with lupus can develop diabetes, making them prone to poor wound healing. Smoking slows wound healing even more. Avascular necrosis of bone can develop in lupus and may require surgery. Smoking slows recovery from illness and surgery.

So where do you go from here? Quitting smoking is easier said than done. Just as lupus is unique for each person, so are the many reasons why you may choose to smoke, and the challenges you may face while trying to quit. It is going to take some effort and motivation on your part, but you do not have to do it alone. 

Talk to your doctor about the best way to begin this journey. Working together, you can choose strategies that will not interfere with your lupus treatment plan or medications. If you feel comfortable, talk to your family and friends about your decision to quit smoking. The more support you have, the more likely it is that you will be successful.  

Take it one day at a time and do not be disappointed by setbacks. Embrace the notion that quitting smoking is the right thing for you, and for controlling your lupus. Everyone at the Lupus Foundation of America supports you on this journey towards a healthier life with lupus. When you're ready, review our strategies to help you quit