Exposure To Air Pollution Greatly Increases Risk For Heart Disease And Stroke

A person’s relative risk to develop heart disease from air pollution may be relatively small compared with the impact of established cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure.  However, the American Heart Association is getting increasingly concerned as many people are exposed to pollution over an entire lifetime.

US researchers found that air pollution seems to be a serious contributor for heart disease and strokes particularly in older women. They found that women who were living in areas with high concentrations of tiny particles of air pollution were more prone to strokes, heart attacks and other forms of heart disease than those living where the air is cleaner.

"Our study provides evidence of the association between long-term exposure to air pollution and the incidence of cardiovascular disease," Dr. Joel Kaufman of the University of Washington at Seattle and colleagues wrote in their report, published in this week’s
New England Journal of Medicine.

The team, working with the U.S. government-funded Women’s Health Initiative, studied the health records of nearly 66,000 women over the age of 50 across the United States.

"We assessed the women’s exposure to air pollutants using the monitor located nearest to each woman’s residence," the researchers wrote.

Every time the concentration of particles increased by 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air, a woman’s risk of dying from heart disease rose by 76 percent, the researchers found.

The study "greatly expands our understanding of how fine particulate pollution affect health," Dr. Douglas Dockery and Dr. Peter Stone of Harvard University wrote in a commentary.

"The magnitude of health effects may be larger than previously recognized," the researchers concluded.

Earlier studies had shown particulate pollution increases the death rate.

The particles of concern, which are residues of burning fossil fuels, are so tiny that a minimum of 400 particles laid end-to-end would be required to cover 1 millimeter (0.04 inch).

It is not yet exactly known why those particles increase the risk. Scientists suspect that they may cause inflammation in the blood vessels and the lungs, prompting fatty deposits to build up and clog the arteries.

Other air pollutants including sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone and nitrogen dioxide, did not increase the heart attack risk, the study said.

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