Study links air pollution to heart attacks and stroke

Study links air pollution to heart attacks and stroke
SEATTLE -- Think of the things linked to heart disease and what comes to mind? Maybe high blood pressure -- being overweight -- eating a fatty diet.

Now you can add air pollution to that list.

A new report out Monday afternoon by the American Heart Association concludes the evidence is growing that air pollution is a link to heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular death.

"Heart disease appears to be an even bigger risk from living in places with higher air pollution exposures, as well as being exposed to high levels on a specific day of air pollution," said Dr. Joel Kaufman, a professor at the University of Washington who worked on this report.

As for what the air pollution is doing to create the increased risk, Kaufman said, "our suspicion is that can both trigger an event by someone who has underlying heart disease, possibly by the way electrical rhythms are delivered through the heart or through the progression of the ongoing hardening of the arteries... and making those more severe and leading to the risk of an acute heart attack."

According to the report, the biggest link between air pollution and... risk of heart attack and stroke seems to be with fine particulate matter.

"The leading sources countrywide are coal-burning plants, motor vehicles... and in this area, we have special things from wood burning and vegetative burning, and factories are playing a smaller and smaller part of this now," Dr. Kaufman said.

Is there anything you can do to reduce the risk?

"Here, we may be more talking about a risk factor which is something that as a population we need to do something to clean up the air that we breathe," Kaufman said. "There are some things that seem to be particularly of concern if you spend a lot of time outdoors near heavily-trafficked roadways -- that may be something you want to avoid, especially when you are exercising."

Kaufman also says it's a good idea to pay attention to those air pollution warnings.

"This is a day for people with per-existing conditions like heart disease to stay indoors or not to be exercising," he said. "We don't get as many of them in the Seattle area as in some other parts of the country, but we do see them. Pay attention to those and try to avoid the worst air pollution time."