Heart attack is not only one of the leading cause of death for both men and women in Nigeria but all over the world. While some risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption are known to trigger this condition, a major environmental pollutant according to a recent research is not only said to increase the risk but could trigger an attack as fast as six hours after exposure.
According to the research carried out by a team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, inhaling heavy amounts of traffic fumes can trigger a heart attack. They also found that the chance of suffering an attack increased by 1.3% in six hours after coming in contact with high levels of vehicle-related pollutants.
Air pollution is currently estimated to reduce the life expectancy by an average of seven to eight months, probably by affecting the heart and lungs.
In this latest study, an epidemiologist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicineand his colleagues found that rising air pollution was linked to a rise in heart attacks up to six hours after exposure.
They reviewed 79,288 heart attack cases over a period of time and exposure, by the hour, to pollution levels.
They also investigated the levels of specific pollutants in the atmosphere which included pollutant particles (PM10), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ozone.
Higher levels of PM10 – tiny toxic particles – and NO2 are well-known markers of traffic related pollution from vehicle exhaust fumes, according to the epidemiologist.
Dr. Agadu Charles, a medical practitioner says fumes is not only dangerous to health but also among the leading causes of heart attack all over the world.
A heart attack occurs if the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked. Heart attacks most often occur as a result of coronary heart disease also called coronary artery disease. It is a condition in which a plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. These arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart.
When plaque builds up in the arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis which occurs over the years.
Eventually, an area of plaque can rupture an artery when exposed to things that can trigger an attack in which fumes is one.
Fumes contains carbon monoxide (CO) which is highly toxic to the respiratory system. When inhaled in large doses or amounts, it mixes with blood and oxygen. When this happens, it prevents oxygen from circulating round the body. It stops the oxygen from performing its function of nourishing and giving air or supplying air to the vital organs.
Fumes does not only contain CO but Lead, another poisonous gas that is toxic to the kidney, says Agadu.
However, those that have histories of cardiac ailments, hypertension, diabetes , high blood pressure are more prone to heart attack than the ordinary people with no history of any of the mentioned ailments, he said.
People with a condition called hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) are equally very prone to heart attacks on inhaling large doses of fumes, he added.
Fumes from generators also contain high amount of carbon monoxide which is why we have had cases in the past where people put on their generators overnight and by morning they are dead because they inhale high amounts of fumes which interferes with oxygen supply to the body but cutting short the oxygen supply that in turn leads to death, Agadu stated.
Those that have been diagnosed with heart disease should always try as they not to stay too long in areas where there are likely to be high traffic pollution levels, such as busy roads where cars emit high doses of fumes that are toxic to human, he advised.
People who are sensitive to air pollution are advised to spend less time outdoors during high and very high episodes of air pollution, and not to exercise along with those suffering from asthma and heart disease. These could help reduce the risk of suffering a sudden heart attack.
The research also estimated there would be an extra five per cent risk of a heart attack caused by a change in air pollution from ‘low’ to ‘moderate’ in the following six hours while the risk would increase further during ‘high’ and ‘very high’ episodes.
People who are prone to heart attack in later period may have simply had their heart attack brought forward by a few hours as a result of the pollution but many studies showed that there are more deaths when pollution levels are higher, but whether heart attacks make a major contribution to this is not clear.
Air Pollution Facts
- According to a study, living in a major city places people at a higher risk than living in the radioactive zone in Chernobyl.
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 2 million premature deaths are caused each year due to air pollution in cities across the world.
- A recent study has revealed that exposure to fine particle matter in polluted air increases the risk of hospitalisation due to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
- According to a German study, people who breathe in the fumes of heavy traffic regularly have higher chances of getting hardening of the arteries, which is associated with the risk of heart attack.
- A Scottish study has shown that jogging with traffic around results in reduced blood flow to the heart.
- According to a study conducted recently, being exposed for a long time to high levels of polluted air reduces lung function and growth in children.
- According to a 20-year study conducted on the residents of Los Angeles, it has been
- Ozone is a major air pollutant in cities that occurs at ground level.
- When the air is polluted, it causes irritation of the throat, lungs and eyes.
- People afflicted with heart disease, like angina, are usually very sensitive to air pollution.