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Jul 10, 2013

Air Pollution Worsens Heart Failure

Common forms of air pollution can seriously affect heart failure patients.

For the nearly 6 million Americans living with heart failure, reducing risk of complications and improving quality of life are key goals of treatment. We now know that there are simple steps such as taking medication, reducing salt intake and staying active, that can go a long way in helping patients with heart failure live longer, healthier lives.  According to a recent article published in the medical journal The Lancet, reducing air pollution could help further reduce risk of complications and improve outcomes in patients living with heart failure.

This paper reviewed nearly 200 studies conducted in recent years, which looked at the impact of common forms of air pollution—carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone and fine particulate matter—on heart failure hospitalizations and deaths. After analyzing results, researchers found that all types of air pollution mentioned above increase risk of hospitalization and death from heart failure, with the exception of ozone. And among all these types of air pollution, fine particulate matter (tiny particles in the air that can be inhaled and go deep into the lungs) increased risk of heart failure complications the most. In fact, experts estimate that simply reducing the amount of particulate matter alone could prevent nearly 8,000 heart failure hospitalizations and save the U.S. a third of a billion dollars each year.

This research adds to a large body of evidence linking air pollution to increased cardiovascular risk. Not only can air pollution worsen or trigger existing heart conditions, it can also cause cardiovascular problems.  And experts are particularly concerned about patients who may be more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, like the elderly, who may already be struggling with existing medical conditions.

To address these concerns, policy makers continue to fight to reduce the amount of pollutants that are emitted into the air we breathe. Air pollution is a major public health concern in the U.S. and globally, and we still have a long way to go in improving air quality. For patients living with chronic heart conditions, it’s important to be aware of air quality in your area and avoid situations where you may be exposed to a high level of air pollution. Information on air quality is publically available, through resources like AIRNOW, and can help us make more informed decisions about reducing exposure to air pollution.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Who is at risk for heart failure?

  • Risk for heart failure increases with age, and is most common in patients with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, such as arrhythmia or history of heart attack. 

  • How can I help prevent heart failure?

  • By controlling any risk factors you may have for heart failure, you can help to reduce your risk. You should also avoid tobacco use and maintain a healthy lifestyle, with a well balanced diet, healthy weight and regular physical activity.

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