Air pollution could cause irregular heartbeat within hours – study

A poor diet is perhaps the best-known risk factor for heart problems. However, a new study warns that the air you breathe could also play a role. Worryingly, the research team suggested that air pollution could trigger heart arrhythmias within hours of exposure.

Exposure to air pollution can hike your risk of cardiac arrhythmias, which describe irregular heartbeats, according to a new study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Your heart is controlled by a conduction system which sends out electrical impulses, triggering a heartbeat. 

Arrhythmias are caused by a problem in this conduction system, which can make your heart beat either too slowly, too quickly, or in an irregular way.

Worryingly, heart arrhythmias can increase the risk of heart disease and sudden cardiac death.

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Looking at nearly 200,000 hospital admissions in China, the study found a significant increase in the risk of arrhythmias in the first few hours after an increase in air pollution levels. 

In case you aren’t aware, air pollution in China is well above the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for air quality.

The research team looked at whether exposure to dirty air every hour led to an onset of arrhythmia symptoms.

They warned that poor air quality had an immediate effect on heart’s activity and that at-risk people must be protected when air pollution is high.

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Dr Renjie Chen, from the School of Public Health at Fudan University, said: “We found that acute exposure to ambient air pollution was associated with increased risk of symptomatic arrhythmia. 

“The risks occurred during the first several hours after exposure and could persist for 24 hours.”

The research team analysed the concentrations of six air pollutants from monitoring stations closest to the reporting hospitals.

Among these pollutants, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) showed the most powerful effect, triggering heart problems.

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While the exact impact of air pollution is not clear, some evidence suggests that it causes oxidative stress and inflammation, which can consequently affect the heart’s electrical activity.

Dr Chen added: “Some evidence has indicated that air pollution alters cardiac electrophysiological activities by inducing oxidative stress and systemic inflammation, affecting membrane channels as well as impairing autonomic nervous function.

“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.

“Our study highlights the importance of reducing exposure to air pollution.”

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