Women who smoke while they are pregnant have higher HDL cholesterol levels, which raises their child's risk of heart disease by up to 15 per cent, researchers warned.

The researchers from the University of Sydney, explained this is because women who smoke during pregnancy lower the "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels in their babies.

This is known to play an important role in protecting against atherosclerosis, where fatty materials collect along the walls of arteries. Left untreated, the fat eventually blocks the arteries leading to heart problems and heart attacks.

By the the age of eight, children who were affected by cigarettes in the womb had HDL cholesterol levels of about 1.3 millimoles per litre, compared to the more normal level of 1.5 mmol/L.

The research is vital because until now scientists were not certain how prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke might affect future heart risks.

Lead author Professor David Celermajer, said: "Our results suggest that maternal smoking 'imprints' an unhealthy set of characteristics on children while they are developing in the womb, which may well predispose them to later heart attack and stroke.

This imprinting seems to last for at least eight years and probably a lot longer," he said.

Posted by Penny Hosie on 23.6.11 Comment on this article by sending it to: penny.hosie@pavpub.com