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Does Air Pollution Affect Your Heart?

separator You’re like most people if you think you’re doing everything you can to maintain your heart health as long as you stay at a healthy weight, eat well, exercise regularly, take medications your doctor has prescribed for you and take steps to control stress. But there’s actually something else that can affect your heart, and it’s difficult to avoid—air pollution.

Recently, experts from the American Heart Association (AHA) conducted a comprehensive review of the effects of air pollution on cardiovascular disease. The results were published in a scientific statement in the 8 July issue of Circulation. The general findings indicate that air pollution, even air that falls within current acceptable readings, does pose a risk for people who already have cardiovascular disease.

Who’s most at risk?
The American Heart Association panel that provided the recommendations about air pollution determined that the following factors put people at higher risk:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Risk factors for cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure; high blood fat levels, such as cholesterol and triglycerides; overweight; inactive lifestyle)
  • Diabetes
  • Lung disease

The panel recommends that people with these risk factors limit outdoor activities when air pollution is in the higher levels. One way to determine whether the pollution is high is to check the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index recommendations

If you’re interested in checking daily information about air pollution near you, visit the Environmental Protection Association . You can find out about ozone and particulate matter there for 150 U.S. cities.

What type of air pollution is most dangerous?
The AHA found that the following air pollutants are especially harmful:

  • Carbon monoxide
  • Oxides of nitrogen
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Ozone
  • Lead
  • Particulate matter (PM), which comes from such sources as car emissions, tire fragments, road dust, metal processing, pollens, molds and forest fires

Additional findings included:

  • Long-term exposure to PM can reduce life expectancy by several years
  • Short-term exposure to PM increases the risk of death due to a “cardiovascular event”
  • When concentrations of PM are highest, hospital admissions for cardiovascular and lung conditions increase

Another point to remember is that tobacco smoke is also an air pollutant. Studies have shown that being exposed to the second-hand smoke of just one cigarette per day can speed the process of hardening of the arteries. The AHA panel believes there’s reason to think that outdoor air pollution could have the same effect.

American Heart Association; Circulation, 8 June 2004.
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