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New Research: Air Pollution Directly Linked to Heart Risks

May 12, 2010

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Particles of air pollution too small to see are likely making a big impact on heart and lung health, according to new research from the American Heart Association (AHA). The scientific evidence cited in its new report builds on previous research and provides a direct link between exposure to what is known as "PM 2.5" pollution and heart attacks, strokes, and even deaths.

Cardiologist Dr. Renato Santos at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center says there are dangers for short-term and long-term exposures.

"Basically, if you look at anything in the cardiovascular-pulmonary disease realm, pollution makes that worse."

North Carolina generally sees lower air pollution levels than other states, although there are days, especially during the summer, when some areas of the state see high pollution levels. Santos says breathing safe air shouldn't be just a turn of luck based on where a person lives.

"We, as a nation, need to reduce our pollutants, and most of those pollutants are fossil fuels. We know that it's circling around to get us when we see an increase in risk of heart disease and lung disease."

The research is published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. According to Santos, it shows people over age 65 and those who already have heart and lung diseases are at the highest risk. The AHA recommends physicians educate their patients about air pollution risks, and emphasize prevention and treatment of traditional cardiovascular risk factors, which may lessen susceptibility to air pollution.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - NC