Air pollution may lead to changes in heart structure, says study

Desiree Burns
August 8, 2018

Researchers have found that people exposed to air pollution levels well within United Kingdom guidelines have changes in the structure of the heart, similar to those seen in the early stages of heart failure.

According to the United Nations 2018 Sustainable Development Goals Report, an estimated 4.2 million people died as a result of high levels of ambient air pollution.

Prof Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, who was not involved in the research, said the study provided "pretty solid evidence" of a link between pollution levels and changes in the heart. Following this research, the BHF are calling for this action to go further to reduce the health impacts of toxic air as quickly as possible.

"Air pollution should be seen as a modifiable risk factor", he said.

"Nay Aung and colleagues supports an observation made in a large clinical research study known as the MESA Air Study carried out in the USA and funded by the EPA and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute that long-term exposure to the near road environment appears to affect the structure of the heart", Cascio added.

In the study, the team analysed data from more than one million participants without a history of diabetes, who were followed for a median of eight and a half years.

Air pollution may take a severe toll on heart health by making changes in the structure of heart, warned a new study.

They also looked at particulate matters, airborne microscopic pieces of dust, dirt, smoke, soot and liquid droplets.

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Though a 1 to 2 percent enlargement in the pumping chamber of the heart may not seem like much, persistent exposure to air pollutants could in theory lead to a gradual enlargement over time and make it harder for the heart to pump blood, a condition known as heart failure.

Exposure to nitrogen dioxide in the study ranged from 10-50 micrograms per cubic metre - the United Kingdom and World Health Organization limits are 40 micrograms per cubic metre.

Air pollution is now the largest environmental risk factor linked to deaths in England.

While the exact locations where people lived were not included in the study, most were outside of the major United Kingdom cities and all of them were exposed to levels of PM2.5 air pollution well below current United Kingdom limits.

According to this study, average annual exposures to PM2.5 were well within United Kingdom guidelines (25µg per cubic metre), although they were approaching or past World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines (10µg per cubic metre).

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study says, "We can't expect people to move home to avoid air pollution - Governments and public bodies must be acting right now to make all areas safe and protect the population from these harms".

According to Cascio, "near road environments" - houses not in urban cities but near a busy roads - can also have an effect on heart health and blood vessel structure and function. "That could show up as a correlation between air pollution and heart disease, even if the pollution itself is having no direct effect on the heart".

Ahead of the UK Government's consultation on their draft Clean Air Strategy closing on 14 August 2018, the British Heart Foundation want to ensure the public's heart and circulatory health is at the centre of discussions.

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