A new study by researchers from the University of Dusiburg-Essen in Germany has shown that people who live in urban areas where particulate air pollution is high tend to have higher blood pressure than those who live in less polluted areas.
The researchers used data from the Heinz Nixdorf Recall Study, an ongoing population-based cohort study of almost 5,000 individuals that focuses on the development of heart disease.
They analysed the effects of air pollution exposure on blood pressure between 2000 and 2003.
While some earlier studies have shown that acute increases in particulate air pollution, such as day-to-day fluctuations, can raise blood pressure, little was known about medium- and long-term exposure.
"Our results show that living in areas with higher levels of particle air pollution is associated with higher blood pressure," said Barbara Hoffman, head of the Unit of Environmental and Clinical Epidemiology, University of Duisburg-Essen, and senior author of the study.
"Both, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, are higher in people who live in more polluted areas, even if we take important factors that also influence blood pressure like age, gender, smoking, weight, etc. into account. Blood pressure increases were stronger in women than in men," Dr. Hoffman added.
High blood pressure increases the risk for atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries, which leads to cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes.
"Our results might explain why people who live in more polluted areas are at a higher risk to suffer and die from these diseases," Dr. Hoffman said.
The results will be presented at the ATS 2010 International Conference in New Orleans.