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Jun 26, 2013

Air Pollution Triggers Irregular Heartbeat

Fine particles in the air may trigger irregular heartbeat in patients with atrial fibrillation.

When we think of air pollution, we tend to worry about its effect on the environment and the world we live in. But air pollution can have a serious impact on our cardiovascular health and, according to a recent study, may increase risk of atrial fibrillation—an irregular heartbeat that increases risk for stroke and heart failure.

Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this study followed 176 atrial fibrillation patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs)—a device implanted in the chest which helps detect and stop an irregular heartbeat. Patients were followed for nearly two years by Tufts Medical Center in Boston, and researchers used information collected by their ICDs to determine if and when patients experienced irregular heartbeats. They also collected information on air quality in the Boston area to see if patients tended to experience irregular heartbeats when air quality was poor.

After analyzing data collected during the study, researchers found that poor air quality—specifically high levels of fine particulate matter in the air—increased odds of experiencing atrial fibrillation. In other words, poor air quality tended to trigger an irregular heartbeat in patients with atrial fibrillation.

So what exactly is fine particulate matter? It’s a term used to describe particles found in the air that come from cars, power plants, and even wood burning. These “fine” particles are hazardous to our health because they are so small that they can be inhaled and go deep into our lungs. And this type of air pollution is especially concerning for patients with atrial fibrillation, as it may trigger an irregular heartbeat.

The good news is that air quality is constantly being measured across the country and we can access this information, like through AIRNOW—a website developed by government agencies to provide the public with easy access to national air quality information. Simply by being more aware of air quality, we can make informed decisions when going outside, especially for patients with health conditions that may be aggravated by poor air quality.
Read the full article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is atrial fibrillation?

  • Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm caused by abnormal, chaotic electrical impulses in the heart’s upper chambers, the atria. These electrical impulses, which interfere with the heart’s natural pacemaker, fire so rapidly the atria cannot beat with a regular rhythm or squeeze out blood effectively. Instead, they merely quiver while the ventricles, the heart’s lower chambers, beat rapidly.
  • Who is at risk for atrial fibrillation?

  • Increased age, heart disease, high blood pressure, alcohol abuse and chronic cardiovascular conditions can increase risk for atrial fibrillation. Family history of this condition may also increase risk, as atrial fibrillation may be genetic.

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