If you think that the harmful effects of air pollution are just confined to lungs, then here's something you should know: bad air can have toxic effects on the heart and cardiovascular system.
In a new article, researchers have said that air pollution has both short- and long-term toxic effects that injure the heart and blood vessels, increase rates of hospitalisation for cardiac illness, and can even cause death.
"We used to think air pollution was a problem that primarily affects the lungs. We now know it is also bad for the heart," said Robert A. Kloner, M.D., Ph.D., director of research at the Heart Institute of the Good Samaritan Hospital.
When pollutants are inhaled, they trigger an increase in "reactive oxygen species"-superoxiding molecules that damage cells, cause inflammation in the lungs, and spark the cascade of harmful effects in the heart and cardiovascular system.
Recent research suggests that ultrafine air pollutants, such as those coming from car exhaust, may pass into the blood stream and damage the heart and blood vessels directly.
According to studies conducted at the Heart Institute, direct exposure of ultrafine air pollutants to heart shows an immediate decrease in both coronary blood flow and the heart's pumping function, as well as a tendency to develop arrhythmias,.
In both humans and animals, it was shown that exposure to air pollution can affect heart rate, blood pressure, blood vessel function, blood clotting, and heart rate variability (a factor in developing heart rhythm disturbances), and speed the progression of atherosclerosis.
Large populations study of people over time have indicated that increased levels of air pollution are linked to emergency hospital admissions for heart attack, chest pain, and congestive heart failure and even to death from heart disease, arrhythmias, heart failure and cardiac arrest.
The elderly and patients who have already been diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes (which damages the blood vessels) are mainly prone to the cardiovascular effects of air pollution.
"Patients with cardiovascular disease shouldn't exercise outside on days with increased air pollution levels. On very polluted days, they should consider staying inside, and during the winter, they should limit exposure to fireplace smoke. Of course, the real solution is to reduce air pollution," said Dr. Kloner.
The study is published in the upcoming issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC).