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Are You at Higher Risk for Heart Problems as a Result of Air Pollution?

By |2024-05-10T08:17:03-04:00January 28th, 2015|Categories: Cardiology, Health A-Z|Tags: |

Regardless of where you live or work, you are exposed to elements in the air every second of the day. Some are natural; some are manmade; some can be dangerous to your health. In varying degrees, we all breathe in pollution every day. Air pollutants can also damage your heart. In fact, for some of the population, exposure to airborne toxins can trigger heart attacks, stroke and other detrimental effects to vascular health.

For people who have existing chronic medical conditions, particularly cardiovascular or respiratory diseases, exposure to pollution can be especially hazardous because it can limit the heart’s ability to pump blood the way that it should. For example, someone with atherosclerosis (also called peripheral artery disease), where there is a build-up of fatty deposits on the inner lining of the arteries, is at significantly higher risk because pollution can cause plaque in a blood vessel to rupture, triggering a heart attack.

The three main air pollution components

While we attribute pollution to that grey haze that often hangs over cities, air pollution is not always something you can see or smell. There are three main contributors:

  • Small particulate matter – Particles of various sizes are added to the air by man-made sources such as burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, power plant emissions and industrial processes.
  • Ozone – An invisible gas that forms when pollutants from cars and power plants react with heat and sunlight in the atmosphere.
  • Toxic Air Pollutants – These represent a compilation of nearly 200 ‘air toxins’ including ozone, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and lead.

In addition to triggering or exacerbating cardiovascular disease, continual exposure to pollution can also open the door to asthma, chronic coughing, diminished lung function, bronchitis, lung cancer and even premature death.

People at highest risk for pollution exposure

Surprisingly, the health risks of lower level pollution for most healthy people are minimal as opposed to older people and those with compromised immune systems. I’ve outlined who is at high risk and should be aware of higher pollution contamination days in order to limit outdoor exposure:

  • History of heart attack, angina, bypass surgery, angioplasty, stroke, blockages in the neck or leg arteries, heart failure, heart rhythm problems, diabetes or lung disease
  • Smokers
  • Men 45 years+ or women 55 years+
  • Family history of stroke or early heart disease (father or brother diagnosed before age 55; mother or sister diagnosed before age 65)
  • Diagnosed with high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol
  • Overweight or those who do not exercise

One of the best ways to protect yourself is to be aware of higher pollution days where you live or work. The New Jersey Department of Health maintains an air quality forecast notification system that distributes alert messages to your cell phone or email at no charge. Find out more by visiting AirNow EnviroFlash at

CentraState Medical Center’s specialized cardiovascular care team provides heart disease prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation supported by its Cardiac Diagnostic Center that includes a Cardiac Catheterization Labcomprehensive Rehabilitation Program and the Gloria Saker Women’s Heart Program. For appointments and more information, call (732) 294-2912. To find a cardiologist in NJ, visit our physician finder.

CentraState’s Endovascular Lab provides the most up-to-date treatment for non-cardiac vascular conditions such as clogged, collapsed or compromised blood vessels. For more information, call (866) CENTRA7.

cardiologist freehold njRobert Kayser, MD is board-certified in internal medicine and cardiology and medical director of the endovascular division at CentraState Medical Center. He was the first doctor in Monmouth and Ocean Counties to perform a new FDA-approved drug-coated angioplasty balloon catheter to treat peripheral arterial disease (PAD) in blocked vessels above the knee. He can be reached at Change of Heart Cardiology by calling (732) 974-6700.

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