Sandra Schaftner volunteers for the German Lupus Group, Lupus Erythematodes Selbsthilfegemeinschaft e.V. She is also one of the German-version translation volunteers of Lupus100. Below is a piece Sandra wrote on smoking and lupus. According to a study presented at the EULAR Congress 2023, smokers have a doubled risk of developing lupus. The study also emphasised smoking’s negative impact on medication effectiveness and increased risk of heart attacks due to accelerated atherosclerosis in lupus patients.
Smokers have twice the risk of lupus
According to a study from Greece, smoking more than doubles the likelihood of at-risk individuals developing lupus. This makes smoking one of the most important risk factors for developing lupus. As per the study’s findings, the second important risk factor is first-degree kinship with a person with lupus. George Bertsias, Professor of Rheumatology at the University of Crete, presented the study at EULAR Congress 2023 (where EULAR stands for European Alliance of Associations for Rheumatology) in the early summer of 2023.
French lupologist Professor Laurent Arnaud described the study as very interesting because it was one of the first studies that looked at how to predict lupus development. Only people who already have autoantibodies in their blood or who are directly related to a person suffering from lupus could participate in the study. All of the approximately 60 participants therefore already had certain risk factors for lupus. Participants were followed for up to five years as part of the study. The aim was to find out whether certain factors could be used to predict which people were at greater risk of developing lupus. For this purpose, the participants were asked to provide various information, such as infections, lifestyle information and medication. Blood and urine analyses were also carried out.
Twenty two percent (22%) of the participants developed lupus during those five years of observation. The large amount of information collected about them revealed that there were two main factors that doubled the risk of developing lupus: smoking and being directly related to someone with lupus. “Unfortunately, we can’t do anything about this second point, but we can very well influence smoking,” Prof. Laurent Arnaud said in the Lupus Europe “EULAR 2023 Webinar Debrief – For People Living with Lupus”: “If you are at risk of lupus, you absolutely should not smoke.”
Smoking may affect the effectiveness of medicines in lupus
Jeanette Andersen, chair of Lupus Europe, who was in the “EULAR 2023 Webinar Debrief – For People Living with Lupus” with Professor Arnaud, added that until now it was common knowledge that if you have lupus, you should not smoke because it interferes with the effectiveness of your medication and can makes the course of the disease worse. “But now we also have data for before diagnosis and we now know that smoking is bad, whether you already have the disease or not,” Jeanette Andersen concluded.
In the webinar, Professor Arnaud mentioned a study from 2015 in which he was involved; the study found the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in skin involvement may be halved due to smoking. “So minus 50 per cent in smokers compared to non-smokers, that’s a big difference,” Professor Arnaud said.
Smoking increases risk of heart attacks
A third reason not to smoke is that it increases the risk of accelerated atherosclerosis. According to the Lupus100 website “There is an increased cardiovascular risk related to lupus itself (increased risk of cholesterol deposits in the arteries), which further increases the risk of tobacco-related heart attacks.” Atherosclerosis is one of the most important long-term complications of lupus, along with infections.
For more insights you can watch the Lupus Europe “EULAR 2023 Webinar Debrief – For People Living with Lupus” : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vBISe63b7o
Additionally the Lupus Hub shared slides from Professor Bertsias Study via this tweet: https://twitter.com/lupus_hub/status/1664645654356930566
Further information can be found on the Lupus100 Website’s page “Should I Quit Smoking?” : https://lupus100.org/en/questions/should-i-quit-smoking
Text by Sandra Schaftner