Air pollution is pretty nasty stuff. It's terrible for the environment, it can affect your memory, and it can wreak havoc on your respiratory system.
While many studies have pointed to the long-term effects of air pollution on heart health, few have examined the transient risks of pollution-exposure. Now, a team of UK researchers has reported that simply breathing in traffic fumes is enough to increase your risk of heart attack for the next several hours.
According to Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, "this large-scale study shows conclusively that your risk of having a heart attack goes up temporarily, for around six hours, after breathing in higher levels of vehicle exhaust."
The study Pearson is referring to was recently conducted by a team of researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The scientists cross referenced the patient data from nearly 80,000 heart attack victims with air pollution measurements to plot hourly levels of air pollution against incidence of heart attack.
Their findings? An increase in air pollution levels was linked to an increased likelihood of heart attack that went back down within hours of initial exposure.
The authors emphasize, however, that while transient exposure to pollution may temporarily increase your risk of heart attack, whether or not you have one is largely dependent upon your long-term lifestyle choices.
"If anything," explains researcher Krishnan Bhaskaran, who led the team "it looks like [increased exposure] brings heart attack forward by a few hours. These are cardiac events that probably would have happened anyway."
Pearson echoed Bhaskaran's sentiments, noting that "unhealthy diets and smoking etc are much bigger heart attack risk factors, but car fumes are the cream on the cake that can tip you over."
Top image via ssuaphotos & WilleeCole/Shutterstock