As the Delhi NCR is shrouded in a thick blanket of smog, the worsening AQI is raising health concerns. Apart from the fear of developing respiratory issues, the immediate adverse effect of toxic air can be seen in form of sore throat, burning eyes, dry skin to name a few problems. According to heart.org, pollution can have both short term and long terms effects on heart health and the culprit could be the fine particulate matter that can go deep into the lungs or even the bloodstream. Their ill effect can lead to health issues like heart disease, stroke, lung problems etc. Even short-term exposure to any kind of fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide has been associated with the onset of all types of acute coronary syndrome. (Also read: 8 morning detox drinks to fight air pollution)
A spate of heart attacks in the recent past including while Garba events during Navratri has brought focus on our deteriorating heart health. Turns out, pollution can further damage existing heart conditions and lead to new cardiac woes.
Fine particulate matter, air pollutants can damage heart
“Yes, pollution can trigger a heart attack. There are many risk factors for coronary-related disease, which ultimately leads to a heart attack. These risk factors are advancing age, male sex, diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidaemia, smoking, and sudden other risk factors as well,” says Dr. Bhupendra Singh, Consultant cardiologist at Manipal Hospital, Ghaziabad.
Dr. (Prof) Sanjay Kumar, Director – Cardiology at Fortis Escorts Hospital Faridabad says fine particulate matter and air pollutants can cause inflammation and lead to narrowing of arteries putting one at risk of heart conditions.
“Firstly, fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and other air pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide (CO), can be inhaled and then enter the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, they can trigger inflammation and oxidative stress, damaging blood vessels and promoting the buildup of atherosclerotic plaques. This narrowing and hardening of arteries leads to conditions like coronary artery disease, (heart disease.),” says Dr Kumar.
Pollution can exacerbate existing heart conditions
“Lately, we have seen that air pollution, especially the small particulate pollution called PM2.5, has become a major risk factor for not only precipitating pre-existing cardiac heart problems but also causing de novo heart problems. So, air pollution is of multiple types, but small particulate air pollution is more harmful to heart diseases. Not only can it exacerbate pre-existing heart conditions like heart failure, arrhythmia, ischemic heart disease, and coronary artery disease, but it can also cause a de novo heart attack. The mechanism of how it causes heart problems is that small particulate air pollutants, when you inhale them, go into your lungs and ultimately get absorbed into your arteries and reach your blood. And it ultimately makes the arteries harder. It causes inflammation inside the blood vessels and leads to plaque deposition,” Dr Singh.
“Air pollution can lead to the development of hypertension or high blood pressure. Long-term exposure to air pollutants like PM2.5 and NO2 can disrupt the normal functioning of blood vessels, causing them to constrict and increase resistance to blood flow. This, in turn, raises blood pressure, putting extra strain on the heart and increasing the risk of heart disease. Furthermore, air pollution can contribute to the development of arrhythmias, irregular heartbeats that can be life-threatening. Inhaling pollutants like PM2.5 can trigger autonomic nervous system imbalances, leading to changes in heart rhythm,” says Dr Kumar.
“Lastly, there is evidence that air pollution can exacerbate existing heart conditions. People with pre-existing heart disease may be more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, with increased rates of heart attacks and other cardiovascular events during periods of high pollution,” adds Dr Kumar.
Air pollution increases the risk of heart disease by promoting inflammation, oxidative stress, atherosclerosis, hypertension, and arrhythmias. These mechanisms collectively contribute to the development and progression of heart diseases, emphasizing the importance of reducing air pollution to protect public health and reduce the burden of heart disease.