Environmental factors, especially air pollution, increase the risk of myocardial infarction

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Exposure to air pollutants increases the risk of fatal myocardial infarction (MI), especially pollutants caused by automobile traffic. This is the conclusion of a new thesis published by the Karolinska Institutet.

Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in Sweden and other Western European countries. Known risk factors include age, sex, heredity, smoking, hypertension, and high blood lipid levels. However, the role played by the external environment still remains a mystery. Exposure factors thought to increase risk include passive smoking, air pollution, noise pollution, and the chemical composition of drinking water. Even if such environmental factors only slightly increase risk, they can have serious public health consequences given the prevalence of the disease and its widespread and indiscriminate effect on people.

The new thesis presents the results of Mats Rosenlund’s research on environmental factors such as aircraft noise, passive smoking, drinking water quality and air pollution.

The study of the relationship between air pollution and cardiovascular disease suggests that prolonged exposure to ambient air pollutants increases the risk of fatal MI, especially outside the hospital. The relationship was particularly evident for air pollutants caused by automobile traffic. However, there was no impact on the risk of suffering disabling or non-fatal MI. To obtain the necessary pollution data, each subject’s home address was converted to geographic coordinates, which were then cross-referenced with data on all known sources of pollutant emissions since 1960.

According to the results of the drinking water hardness study, there is no evidence that water hardness or its magnesium or calcium content has an effect on the risk of MI.

The thesis also included previously published studies which suggest that there is a correlation between hypertension and aircraft noise, the latter being calculated either as “aircraft noise levels” above 55 dBA or as peaks of maximum aircraft noise above 72 dBA.

Studies have also been conducted that support earlier claims that passive smoking increases the risk of myocardial infarction. The results suggest that combined exposure at home and work and overall exposure in adulthood contribute significantly to the risk of MI.

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The summary of “Environmental Factors in Cardiovascular Disease” can be viewed at http://diss.kib.ki.se/2005/91-7140-292-6/

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Material provided by Karolinska Institute. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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