Healthy living

Car fumes may trigger heart attacks

Car fumes may trigger heart attacks Increased risk up to six hours after inhaling fumes

Breathing in heavy traffic fumes can help to trigger a heart attack, UK experts say.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found the risk of having a heart attack is increased for around six hours after inhaling high levels of traffic fumes. After this, the risk returns to normal.

The scientists analysed medical records of nearly 80,000 heart attack patients living in 15 areas in England and Wales, and compared them with hourly data on specific pollutants in the air at that time.

These included the air pollutants PM10, carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ozone.

Higher levels of PM10 and NO2 are known markers of traffic related pollution, the researchers said.

As the increased risk of having a heart attack was limited to up to six hours, the researchers said the results suggested that the heart attack would have happened anyway but was brought forward by a few hours by the air pollutants.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which helped to fund the study, said: "This large-scale study shows conclusively that your risk of having a heart attack goes up temporarily, for around six hours, after breathing in higher levels of vehicle exhaust.

"We know that pollution can have a major effect on your heart health, possibly because it can 'thicken' the blood to make it more likely to clot, putting you at higher risk of a heart attack.

"Our advice to patients remains the same – if you've been diagnosed with heart disease, try to avoid spending long periods outside in areas where there are likely to be high traffic pollution levels, such as on or near busy roads."

This article was published on Wed 21 September 2011

Image © Cecilia Lim -

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