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Heartbeat blues

Air pollution could increase risk of heart arrhythmia

Increased exposure to air pollution leads to an increased risk of heart arrhythmia, according to a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The study, which included almost 200,000 people in China, found that the potential for an irregular heartbeat increased just hours after increased air pollution levels. 

"The risks occurred during the first several hours after exposure and could persist for 24 hours," explained Renjie Chen, co-author of the study. "Although the exact mechanisms are not yet fully understood, the association between air pollution and acute onset of arrhythmia that we observed is biologically plausible." Arrhythmia "can lead to severe cardiovascular diseases such as heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, stroke, and death," the study notes.

China has some of the highest air pollution levels in the world, often well above the World Health Organization's air quality guidelines, The Guardian writes. The pollutant nitrogen dioxide had the strongest association with heart irregularity. However, "Whilst this study suggests a link, further research is needed to identify how these pollutants act to disrupt normal heart rhythms," remarked Ruth Goss, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation to The Times.

She added, "Whilst it is true that air pollution in China is particularly high, air pollutants are known to increase the risk of heart and circulatory diseases wherever they are found," citing that there are 11,000 circulatory system-related deaths attributed to air pollution in the U.K. each year. Air pollution has also been found to increase the risk of other health problems, including dementia. Chen concluded that the study highlights "the importance of further reducing exposure to air pollution and of prompt protection of susceptible populations worldwide."