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Friday, February 25, 2011

Air Pollution May cause Heart Attacks


If policy makers want to put a stop to heart attacks, they should focus on improving air quality, a new study suggests.

The study, which is published in The Lancet, is one of the first to rank the relative contributions of 14 triggers - including cocaine and alcohol use, irritation, and physical exertion -- to heart attacks in the common population.

Fine particles in the air that are generated by traffic and power plants, researchers establish, trigger about the same number of heart attacks as experiencing negative emotions, heavy physical exertion like shoveling snow, and heavy alcohol.

The researchers strain that on an individual level the risk that air pollution will trigger a heart attack is relatively low. But when those small risks are applied to a large number of people, the danger becomes more evident.

The analysis is not very difficult, but nobody has ever done that before, says Andrea Bacciarelli, MD, PhD, an associate professor of environmental epigenetic in the department of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston. Especially to compare air pollution to other threat factors, which is really brilliant, I think.

Air pollution really is an enormous problem for communities, says Bacciarelli, who wrote a commentary that accompanied the study. “I think they really placed themselves well to show that.”

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