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Air pollution may make the heart bigger, but not in a good way

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Air pollution from traffic linked to changes in heart structure

New research suggests, but doesn't prove which is an important note, that air pollution changes the structure of the ventricle or lower chamber of the heart. The finding may be more bad news for how our environment negatively impacts our health.

For their study researchers looked at air pollution from traffic. The investigation included 3,896 participants who were part of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and free of heart disease.

The study participants underwent cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The researchers estimated how much air pollution those in the study were exposed to prior to testing. The results showed an association between exposure to nitrogen dioxide from traffic pollution and increase size of the right ventricle of the heart. What that means is a higher chance of heart failure.

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When the size and volume of the heart ventricles increase, the heart begins to pump less effectively.

The study also showed an increase in what is known as right ventricular end-diastolic volume - the result is increased pressure on the heart that causes strain over time and can lead to heart disease.

“The morphologic changes in the right ventricle of the heart that we found with increased exposure to nitrogen dioxide add to the body of evidence supporting a connection between traffic-related air pollution and cardiovascular disease,” said Peter Leary, MD, MS, of the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle in a press release.

The study authors say it's possible that something other than air pollution could be responsible for the finding. One of the study's limitations is that it is difficult to measure how much a person has been exposed to air pollution. The researchers say more needs to be to reduce air pollution to help protect the public from a variety of health issues associated with poor air quality.

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