Smoking Linked to Chronic Pain in Women

If you need yet another good reason to quit smoking for good, here it is.  A study conducted by researchers at the University of Kentucky has found that women who smoke may be at greater risk of suffering from chronic pain than those who do not.

Researchers surveyed over 6000 women (18 years of age or older and living in Kentucky), asking them (1) whether they smoked and (2) if they suffered from any of the following conditions: chronic head pain, chronic neck pain, chronic back pain, sciatica, fibromyalgia, joint pain, nerve problems and pain all over their body.  A statistical analysis of their responses suggested that women who currently smoked or who had smoked previously were more likely to report having at least one symptom of chronic pain than women who had never smoked.  Those who smoked daily were 104 percent more likely to suffer from chronic pain.  Occasional smokers were 68 percent more likely.  Even former smokers were at 20 percent greater risk of chronic pain.

Study results revealed that chronic pain was more strongly associated with a daily smoking habit than older age, low academic achievement, obesity or living in a county in Appalachia.

Co-author of the study, Dr. David Mannino, a pulmonary physician from the UK College of Public Health, suggested that the study results could represent something of a “chicken and egg” scenario.  He explained, “This study shows a strong relationship between heavy smoking and chronic pain in women, but what is the direction of this association?  Does smoking cause more chronic pain, or do more women take up smoking as a coping mechanism for experiencing chronic pain?”

Since acute pain is a protective response to some sort of injury, Mannino hypothesized that women smokers may have experienced an acute pain that then developed into chronic pain because their normal mechanisms of protection had been damaged by smoke exposure.

Another co-author of the study, Dr. Leslie Crofford, director of the Center for the Advancement of Women’s Health, noted that it would be a good idea for researchers to now investigate if there is a link between smoking, psychopathology, quitting smoking and how chronic pain is managed.

Crofford says, “Our results show there is a dose-response relationship between smoking classification and chronic pain syndromes.  It’s possible that patients experiencing chronic pain could benefit from smoking cessation treatment in addition to the treatment for their pain.  Similarly, it’s possible that appropriate treatment of chronic pain could increase a smoker’s chances of successfully quitting.  Right now, more research is needed on these interventions.”