Air Pollution and it’s Link to Heart Disease

Air Pollution and it’s Link to Heart Disease

Lauren Diffendarfer

by Lauren Diffendarfer

Medical Educator

posted on Feb 10, 2015, at 9:48 pm


DESPITE ALMOST 20 YEARS OF RESEARCH, air pollution and heart health are not often discussed together. Heart disease is often attributed to smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, but risk factors associated with air pollution are seldom considered. While most of the American population poses only a relatively small risk as a trigger for heart disease, breathing polluted air raises some people’s risk of heart attack, stroke or irregular heart rhythm.

man with mask and air pollution background According to Circulation, people who are at increased risk from with high levels of air pollution include those who:

• Have had a heart attack, angina, heart failure, diabetes mellitus and some types of irregular heart rhythm problems and
• Engage in high-risk behaviors like smoking
• Are older than 65

Air pollution can be either natural or man-made and is a mixture of gases and particles that are small enough to worsen risks from heart disease when inhaled. Some man-made forms of air pollution include…
• Car and truck exhaust
• Power plants
• Industrial sources
• Cigarette smoking and wood-burning stoves (indoor pollution)

How Air Pollution Harms the Heart

According to Langrish, these air pollutants often cause inflammation which can contribute to blocking arteries which can result in a heart attack and the death of heart tissue because of a lack of oxygen. Studies have found that when there is a measurable rise in these air pollutants, there is an increase in number of hospital visits due to heart attacks and abnormal heart rhythms. When a person experiences chronic exposure, this also can lead to an increase in deaths related to cardiovascular disease.

Researchers found that the reduction of exposure to these air pollutants was correlated with consistent improvements in a decrease of myocardial ischemia, blood pressure and heart rate variability in patients with coronary heart disease.

What you can do

To reduce your risk from harmful air pollutants that can harm your heart health, it is recommended that individuals should first reduce his or her overall risk, including quitting smoking and controlling your blood pressure. Also, knowing where air pollution particle and ozone pollution levels are high can help prevent exposure. Typically dense air pollution creates a haze that can be brown and make it harder to see. Often these places include areas near busy streets, close to factories and areas near wildfires, according to the American Heart Association.

We want to know: What is one way you are becoming heart healthier this year?


Gold, D. R., and J. M. Samet. “Air Pollution, Climate, and Heart Disease.” Circulation 128.21 (2013): E411-414. Web. 10 Feb. 2015.

Langrish, Jeremy P., et al. “Reducing personal exposure to particulate air pollution improves cardiovascular health in patients with coronary heart disease.” Environmental health perspectives 120.3 (2012): 367-372.

About Lauren

Lauren works as the Medical Educator for the Disque Foundation and has worked closely with us since 2014. She is a full-time student pursuing a BS in Biology at Indiana University as a recipient of the Chick Evans Caddy Scholarship and hopes to attend medical school to become a physician in the future. She is certified in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, Basic Life Support, Advanced Cardiac Life Support and Pediatric Advanced Life Support, and she is also a certified Basic Life Support Instructor for the American Heart Association. She stays heavily involved with health care in and out of her local community, helping plan and coordinate Disque Foundation events, teaching lifesaving skills to the communities and organizations that we serve and volunteering at her hometown hospital in the Birthing Unit.

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