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Monday, 11 June, 2001, 23:51 GMT 00:51 UK
Air pollution heart attack link
traffic pollution
Traffic pollution may lead to heart attacks
Inhaling tiny particles of pollution could trigger a heart attack within two hours, suggest a team of researchers.

The link between air pollution and heart problems has been established by other studies, but a team of American scientists claims theirs is the first to suggest such a rapid response.

Almost 800 heart attack victims from the Boston area were interviewed and asked when they first started feeling the symptoms.

These times were compared with data collected levels of air pollution in the city.

The risk of heart attack was higher among those who had experienced a higher level of small pollution particles called PM2.5s in the two hours before the attack.

Their risk was doubled compared to a normal member of the public - although overall, even this doubled risk is not high.

These fine particles are mainly produced by car engines, power plants, refineries and other industries.

Professor Douglas Dockery, from the Harvard School of Public Health, believes the PM2.5s are dangerous because they can get into the tissues of the lungs more easily.

He said: "They can get past the normal defence mechanisms in the lungs and penetrate deeply into the air exchange regions.

Traffic effects

"It's too early to predict what types of medical intervention might be effective in preventing the serious cardiovascular consequences of fine-particle exposure."

Research has been carried out in the UK into the effects of traffic pollution on heart attacks.

A recent report from a committee of government advisors acknowledged that in some areas, people would be suffering ill-health because of traffic pollution.

Dr Jan Poliniecki, of St George's Hospital in south London, led research which suggested as many as one in 50 heart attack patients arriving at London's hospitals were the victims of smoke pollution.

He said: "We found that there was an association - although you can't prove a definite causal link between the two."

Prof Dockery said the best way to avoid was outdoor activity on hot, hazy days.

"If a person exercises outside, the increased respiratory activity also increases the dose of PM2.5," he said.

Most levels of fine-particle pollution have dropped in urban areas in recent years.

The study was published in the journal Circulation.

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