Air Pollution Is Important Trigger of Heart Attacks

Researchers find it triggers about as many heart attacks as physical exertion, alcohol intake

THURSDAY, Feb. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Air pollution triggers about the same number of myocardial infarctions as individual risk factors such as physical exertion and alcohol and coffee consumption, according to research published online Feb. 24 in The Lancet.

Tim S. Nawrot, Ph.D., of Hasselt University in Diepenbeek, Belgium, and colleagues analyzed 36 epidemiologic studies to compare various triggers of myocardial infarction at the individual and population level.

Use of cocaine ranked highest and exposure to air pollution lowest for triggering heart attacks, but population exposure to air pollution was 100 percent, while only 0.04 percent of the population was exposed to cocaine. After taking into account odds ratios and prevalence of exposure, the researchers found that the highest population attributable fraction (PAF) was for exposure to traffic, at 7.4 percent, with physical exertion, alcohol, and coffee following at 6.2, 5, and 5 percent, respectively. The PAF for cocaine use was 0.9 percent.

"In view of both the magnitude of the risk and the prevalence in the population, air pollution is an important trigger of myocardial infarction, it is of similar magnitude (PAF 5 to 7 percent) as other well accepted triggers such as physical exertion, alcohol, and coffee. Our work shows that ever-present small risks might have considerable public health relevance," the authors write.

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