Polluted Urban Areas Promote High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease
German researchers find that living in polluted urban living promotes high blood pressure that can lead to heart disease. In a new study, despite noise and other factors, exposure to fine particulate matter from traffic and combustion was found to promote high blood pressure that can accelerate atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart disease.
Our results show that living in areas with higher levels of particulate matter that causes air pollution is associated with higher blood pressure," said Barbara Hoffman, M.D., M.P.H., head of the Unit of Environmental and Clinical Epidemiology, University of Duisburg-Essen, and senior author of the study. Past studies have shown that fluctuating levels of air pollution can cause health problems that include higher blood pressure, but the current study is the first to show the effect of medium and long term exposure to air pollution and elevated blood pressure that leads to heart disease.
Scientists found that traffic, heating, industry, power plants and other sources of air pollution raised blood pressure by 1.7 mmHg in response to an increase of 2.4 µg/m³ of fine particulate matter exposure. "Both, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, are higher in people who live in more polluted areas, even if we take important factors that also influence blood pressure like age, gender, smoking, weight, etc. into account. Blood pressure increases were stronger in women than in men," explained Dr. Hoffman.
Hoffman also explains that higher blood pressure did not result from just traffic noise, also shown in past studies. Hoffman explains "In our study, air pollution levels represent averaged background concentrations which were not related to nearness to busy streets. Therefore, the observed increase in blood pressure is not likely due to noise exposure.”
The scientists say that air pollution does more than trigger heart attack and other life threatening events – exposure to fine particulate matter “may also influence the underlying processes, which lead to chronic cardiovascular diseases.” High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, and urban areas are shown to promote higher blood pressure, found in the current study. The researchers plan to study whether air pollution accelerates development of heart disease. Medium and long term exposure to air pollution from fine particulate matter is now found to cause elevated blood pressure that is known to promote heart disease.