Exposure to air pollution not only creates breathing problems but also poses a serious threat to cardiovascular health and overall health, the American Heart Association warns today in its medical journal Circulation.
An AHA panel led by Dr. Robert D. Brook of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor conducted a comprehensive review of the medical literature on air pollution and cardiovascular disease. “The existing body of evidence is adequately consistent, coherent, and plausible enough to draw several conclusions,” they write.
One conclusion is that short-term exposure to elevated levels of particulate matter (PM) “significantly contributes to increased acute cardiovascular mortality, particularly in certain at-risk subsets of the population.”
Also, hospital admissions for several cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases increase acutely in response to higher levels of PM exposure.
The evidence also implicates prolonged exposure to elevated levels of PM in reducing overall life expectancy by a few years, according to the panel.
“The increase in relative risk for heart disease due to air pollution for an individual is small compared with the impact of established cardiovascular risk factors,” Dr. Brook said in a statement. “However, this is a serious public health problem due to the enormous number of people affected and because exposure to air pollution occurs over an entire lifetime.”
The panel is particularly concerned that “a number of the studies” have shown associations between particulate air pollution and harmful cardiovascular effects even when levels of PM were within the current standards. This suggests that “even more stringent standards for PM should be strongly considered” by the Environmental Protection Agency, they write.
The panel encourages healthcare providers to educate people about the health risks related to air pollution and the availability of daily air pollution updates provided by the EPA for more than 150 U.S. cities at [url=http://www.epa.gov/airnow]http://www.epa.gov/airnow[/url]
SOURCE: Circulation, June 1, 2004.
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD