Traffic exposure can trigger a heart attack

April 15, 2009 by  

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traffic-jam2We are exposed to traffic everyday, whether as a commuter or as a driver. Some of us are even exposed as part of our jobs, e.g. as traffic policemen, bus drivers, tec. This post explores the link between traffic exposure and cardiovascular health.

Previous studies have shown that heart attacks may be triggered by strenuous activities. This recent study by German researchers suggest that exposure to traffic can have some serious consequences on people’s heart health. The researchers looked at time spent on any form of traffic exposure by using some form of transport, be it by car, by public transport, or by bicycle and its triggering effect on heart attacks. However, driving a car was the most common source of traffic exposure among the 1,454 study participants. The results of the study indicate that people exposed to any form traffic exposure have a 3.2 times higher risk of having a heart attack than those without exposure. For those exposed, there is a small but significant increase in the likelihood that a heart attack can occur with 6 hours of exposure. Those who were especially at risk were

  • women
  • elderly men
  • people who are unemployed
  • people who have a history of angina pectoris (chest pains)

According to lead author Dr. Annette Peters

Driving or riding in heavy traffic poses an additional risk of eliciting a heart attack in persons already at elevated risk. In this study, underlying vulnerable coronary artery disease increased the risk of having a heart attack after driving in traffic… one potential factor could be the exhaust and air pollution coming from other cars. But we can’t exclude the synergy between stress and air pollution that could tip the balance.”

This isn’t the first study to find a link between cardiovascular disorder and air pollution. British and Swedish researchers found that diesel exhaust increased the rate of blood clot formation as well as blood platelet activity even in healthy people – leading to increased risk of having heart attack and stroke. The increased cardiac event risk due to traffic pollution is evident even when fine particulate matter concentrations are considered low or safe.

In a previous resource post, I have reviewed the most recent medical evidence that linked air pollution to cardiac events. In one study, it was shown that fine particulate matter can interfere with the heart’s electrical functioning.

In the same way, stress can be a triggering factor towards a cardiac event. In a previous post, I discussed about the effect of stress on driving and vice versa.

We all need some form of transport to get somewhere and many of us are on the move to get to our jobs 5 days a week. What would be interesting to find out is a risk comparison between drivers and public transport commuters, e.g. which form of traffic exposure has the least adverse effect on our cardiovascular health.

Phot credit: stock.xchng

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