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Changes in heart structure associated with heart disease linked to air pollution

Air pollution is well established as a large public health issue in the city of London. Last year, a report concluded that people in London are 64 times more likely to die due to air pollution than people in Sweden. This is due to diseases such as respiratory problems, stroke and coronary heart disease that it could be responsible for. Previously, scientists had been unknown about the mechanism of this damage. It was not clear how air pollution was causing these premature deaths.

A study published recently in the journal Circulation by Aung and colleagues concluded that air pollution is linked to heart chamber enlargements that are seen in the early stages of heart disease or heart failure. Research has concluded there to be a link between the levels of exposure to nitrogen dioxide and fine particular matter to an increase in the volume of the two chambers of the heart, the left and the right ventricle after they had filled with blood. The fine particular matter is known as PM2.5 and PM10 particles and is often emitted by motor vehicles, among other sources.

Last year, a report concluded that people in London are 64 times more likely to die due to air pollution than people in Sweden

Aung has said that although the increase in the size of the heart chamber is small, the results are significant because it serves as an early warning sign. He further explains that patients with heart failure or those at the developing stage find changes in their heart structure and one of them is that they become larger. As a result, the heart finds itself under stress so the only way to accommodate the increased pressure and volume is to become larger which in the long run could lead to heart failure.

Aung has highlighted that the findings are particularly concerning because most of the participants lived in areas with relatively low exposure to high pollution. Estimates were obtained of the outdoor concentrations of different pollutants at participants’ home addresses about five years before the scan. The study controlled for factors such as age, sex, income, and smoking history but researchers have stressed that such statistical adjustments can never be fully accurate. Nevertheless, Chris Gale, professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Leeds has commented that the study “offers a possible mechanistic clinical pathway between the detrimental effects of air pollution and cardiovascular disease”.

The study controlled for factors such as age, sex, income, and smoking history but researchers have stressed that such statistical adjustments can never be fully accurate

Aung has suggested that while the government’s recent consultations on clean air is a step in the right direction, individuals should better look after their health through other means such as tackling obesity, high blood pressure or high cholesterol to reduce their risks of developing heart disease.

This research should prompt everyone to reflect upon their lifestyle and to take individual actions to reduce their health risks. There is a great need to have a robust public policy in action to tackle the environmental issues and the findings of this study serve to provide the policy-makers with yet another incentive to begin to see the degrading health of the planet as a significant threat with serious economic and public health consequences.

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