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Even a few days of air pollution may trigger a heart attack or stroke

According to an MSNBC article, even short-term exposure to air pollution — just a day or a week in some cases — may kick off a heart attack or stroke according to two new studies.  The studies reveal that the risk of heart attack or stroke can jump after high-pollution days, especially for people who already have predisposing health problems.

In a new analysis published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, up to a week of exposure to most major types of air pollution may be enough to trigger a heart attack.

  • Heart attack risk went up by almost 5 percent with high carbon monoxide levels over as little as seven days
  • Heart attack risk increased almost 3 percent with higher levels of air particles for up to seven days.

The risk of stroke jumped 34 percent after 24 hours of exposure to moderate air pollution, according to a study published in the latest issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

No one knows exactly how much pollution will trigger a heart attack or stroke, but experts suggest that vulnerable people protect themselves by minimizing time spent breathing air contaminated with a heavy dose of fine particles.  As exposure increases, both in terms of time and intensity, so does the risk of a heart attack and stroke.

The best recourse for those with cardiovascular disease may be to keep a close eye on local pollution levels, experts say. And government agencies are making that easier and easier. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, has a downloadable app that provides information on local air quality. You can download the air quality app from the AIRNow app from the EPA’s website. The app works on both Apple and Android phones and allows users to get pollutant and ozone levels for more than 400 cities across the nation.

The culprit in both studies is particulate matter, tiny bits of material and droplets, known as PM2.5s. The particles come from a variety of sources, including power plants, factories, trucks and cars.

If you live in an area that is in non-attainment for federal air quality standards such as DFW or Houston, this should cause you some concern as the Texas leadership does everything they can to block the EPA’s efforts to enforce the Clean Air Act.  While they express concern about EPA regulations on the financial health of the energy industry, touting the imaginary loss of jobs, they rarely express concerns about the actual health of Texans who would be protected by the increased regulation.