Particles as dangerous for heart as cholesterol and smoking
Particles in polluted air increase the risk of a heart attack as much as cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and obesity. Even after a short stay in a busy and polluted area the risk on a heart attack goes up with 2 to 3%. These are the conclusions of scientific research among 11.400 patients having had a serious heart attack between 2009 and 2013.
Correlation between pollution and heart attacks
“The effect of breathing in polluted air is almost immediate”, cardiologist at university hospital Antwerp (Universitair Ziekenhuis Antwerpen, UZA) and president of the Belgian Society of Cardiology Marc Claeys says. “Nitrogen dioxide enters the blood via the lungs and causes small infections that can trigger a hart attack.”
The study shows there is an important correlation between breathing in particles and acute myocardial infarcts or serious attacks. Every time the amount of particles in the air increases, the risk of a heart attack rises with 10 points. In a situation of smog warning it even increases with 10 to 15%. Biggest culprit is the nitrogen dioxide from exhaust gases of diesel engines.
“This means that a city trip, especially for someone who already is suffering from a heart disease, could be fatal”, Claeys explains. “That’s why heart patients are advised to stay inside and take it easy when there is a smog alert.”
According to Claeys most cardiologists are not aware yet of the seriousness of a bad air quality and the risk of it for patients. “During their consultations they inquire their patients about their lifestyle but they seldom ask questions about where they live. Maybe they should advice their heart patients to move to a healthier region.”
Wearing paper masks doesn’t help and even banning polluting diesels from the city centres is insufficient, as fossil fuels are used for heating too. “We need to switch from fossil fuel to green energy as soon as possible”, the doctor concludes.
Death toll of 38.000 people
Heart diseases and heart attacks in particular still are the most important cause of death, followed by cancer. In Belgium some 38.000 people a year die of a heart or cardiovascular disease, some 100 people per day.
The Belgian Society of Cardiology is now creating a foundation to do extra scientific research on treatments for heart diseases like the Foundation against Cancer (Stichting tegen Kanker) does for cancer. With a budget of 50.000 to 60.000 euro they can start working on three research projects.