The Link Between Air Quality And Cardiac Events

Regardless of whether a person lives in a rural area where wildfires may occur or a city in which smog forecasts are routine, even a small amount of air pollution can lead to serious health problems, such as a cardiac event or stroke.

Pollution Sources

Pollution comes from a variety of sources, such as power generation, exhaust from factories, motor vehicle exhaust, and wildfires. For example, statistics from California indicate that when wildfires burned out of control in 2015, emergency room visits for cardiac events rose by 42 percent among those 65 years of age or older, and by 15 percent overall.

Scientists report that there is a broad range of pollutants in both outdoor and indoor air, some of which are man-made and some of which are natural. Everyone is exposed to a certain degree, and both long-term and short-term exposure directly increase the chance of stroke, heart attack, or other cardiac events.

Fine Particulate Matter

Fine particulate matter has been singled out by the American Heart Association as a top risk factor for cardiovascular problems. Motor vehicle and factory fumes, biomass burning, forest fires, the burning of fossil fuels, and even cooking on a wood stove all result in this matter being introduced into the air. Although particles of various sizes all make up what is referred to as “pollution,” fine particulate matter is most strongly linked to adverse effects on the human cardiac system.

Blood Vessel Inflammation

Although the biological link between cardiovascular disease and air pollution is still somewhat unclear, doctors and scientists suspect that fine particles trigger blood vessel inflammation, which ultimately interferes with healthy blood flow and oxygen supply to organs. Some researchers state that it is possible for tiny particles to reach the circulatory system and cause specific harm.

Nerve Fiber Irritation

Nerve fiber irritation in the pulmonary system can also lead to an imbalance within the body’s nervous system. This can lead to inappropriate blood clotting, elevated blood pressure, impaired blood flow, decreased vascular function, and even thrombosis. When such things occur, they disrupt appropriate cardiac electrical activity, which can lead to a stroke or heart attack.

World Health Organization Statistics

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution contributes to approximately 800,000 premature deaths annually, which makes it the 13th leading cause of death throughout the world. The Organization also states that by reducing fine particulate matter pollution from 70 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter, air-quality related deaths could be lowered by approximately 15 percent.

Respiratory Diseases

New data also reveals a strong link between both outdoor and indoor air pollution exposure and respiratory diseases. The latter include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, acute respiratory infection, and emphysema. These facts were uncovered when studies were completed on men and women with the aforementioned respiratory diseases who did not smoke cigarettes or use tobacco products.

Because such conditions rarely occur without exposure to some type of foreign matter, researchers began to scrutinize links between air pollution and the occurrence of “smoker’s diseases” in individuals who never smoked.

Preventing Air Pollution-Related Deaths

Fortunately, through public education, legislation, and the use of appropriate safety measures for those exposed to fine particulate matter, it may be possible to prevent cardiac events and untimely deaths from air pollution.

For example, NASA scientists have determined that the use of common houseplants may play a vital role in fighting indoor air pollution. This is because certain plants, such as aloe, bamboo palm, and English ivy have the ability to absorb potentially harmful gases and clean the air within homes and office buildings.

A person’s primary health care provider may also recommend other measures for those who believe they are exposed to fine particle matter. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Heart Association have cosponsored a Congressional briefing to educate legislators about the link between cardiac problems and air pollution.

Hopefully, through the combined efforts of individuals, lawmakers, and members of the medical community, cardiac deaths from air pollution will be lowered in the future.

As the nation’s leading provider of holter monitors and cardiac event monitoring equipment, we feel it’s our duty to inform the public on matters relating to the heart. If you have a topic you would like us to cover on our blog, please email us at 

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Domenic Minieri