MRI scans reveal vascular damage caused by vaping

MRI scans of patients who used e-cigarettes showed an immediate impact in their vascular function, according to a new study published in Radiology.

The results are particularly relevant considering e-cigarette use, or vaping, is increasing. A CDC estimate found more than nine million adults in the U.S. use the devices; a similar statistic from the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey found more than 3.6 million middle and high schoolers were vaping.

"The use of e-cigarettes is a current public health issue because of widespread use, especially among teenagers, and the fact that the devices are advertised as safe despite uncertainty about the effects of long-term use," Alessandra Caporale, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher in the Laboratory for Structural, Physiologic and Functional Imaging at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said in a prepared statement.

Caporale and colleagues explained that when the e-cigarette solution is vaporized, harmful toxic substances are released and inhaled sending tiny particles into the lungs which are then absorbed by the blood vessels. This inhibits vascular function and promotes inflammation, they argued.

To gain a better understanding of vaping’s impact on vascular function, the team performed quantitative MRI exams on 31 healthy non-smoking adults (mean age 24 years old) before and after they inhaled a nicotine-free e-cigarette.

The researchers scanned the femoral artery in the leg, the aorta and brain using novel multi-parametric MRI protocols before and after one “vaping episode”—similar to smoking a single traditional cigarette.

After comparing the scans, the single inhalation caused reduced blood flow and impaired vascular reactivity in the femoral artery. A 34% reduction in “flow-mediated dilation” was recorded. Additionally, peak blood flow fell by 17.5% and blood acceleration dropped by 25.8%.

"These products are advertised as not harmful, and many e-cigarette users are convinced that they are just inhaling water vapor," Caporale said. "But the solvents, flavorings and additives in the liquid base, after vaporization, expose users to multiple insults to the respiratory tract and blood vessels."

More research is required to understand the long-term effects of vaping on vascular health, Caporale concluded.