If you have a heart condition, a recent study suggests that exposure to traffic congestion and breathing exhaust fumes can trigger a heart attack for as long as six hours afterwards. The study conducted by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and tropical Medicine and co-funded by the British Heart Foundation isn’t the first study to find a link between cardiovascular disease and traffic pollution.
The British researchers analyzed over 79,000 cases of heart attacks that occurred between 2003 and 2006. All patients lived in England and Wales, in one of 15 different large and small urban settings. The researchers noted the time of day when the patients experienced their heart attacks as well as the relevant time-sensitive regional air pollution data.
Specific pollutants examined were PM10 (particulate matter), nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, and carbon monoxide. The first two, PM10 and nitrogen dioxide, are primarily the result of heavy use of automobiles in urban areas. The researchers discovered that higher levels of the two chemicals seem to be linked to a short time rise in heart attack risk. Six hours after exposure to traffic pollution, the risk went back down.
An earlier 2009 study in Germany found that exposure to traffic-related pollution tripled the risk of a heart attack in those with pre-existing heart problems. In this study researchers interviewed 1,454 people who survived heart attacks. In the hour before their heart attack, many of the survivors had been in heavy traffic. Traffic appeared to be five times more dangerous to women than to men in the study.
Pollution and Heart Health
While the researchers in these studies were quick to point out that the people who suffered heart attacks already had a heart condition and traffic exhaust merely hastened a likely event, this doesn’t mean that traffic pollution doesn’t contribute to cardiovascular disease.
Researchers have convincing evidence that pollution can have a major effect on your cardiovascular health. Studies have found that those living near freeways experience a hardening of the arteries that leads to heart disease and strokes at twice the rate of those who live farther away.
Furthermore, it’s not just urban traffic congestion that’s raising our risk of a heart attack, it’s the noise too. Studies have found that people who live in neighborhoods with high levels of noise from road traffic have a 40% higher risk of heart attacks than people in quieter neighborhoods.
When you consider that heart disease is only one in a long list of health problems associated with pollution (like cancer and respiratory problems such as asthma) the need to reduce air pollution is painfully clear.
Oh, and don’t forget light pollution, it can rob you of a good night sleep and your overall health too!
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