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NM EPHT Health Effects: Heart Attack and Air Quality



Did you know there’s a connection between heart health and air pollution?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and a major cause of disability. We have long known that things like lack of exercise and poor diet can increase the risk of heart disease. Did you know that how good or bad the air we breathe also affects heart health? Breathing in very small bits of air pollution (fine particle pollution) over a few hours to weeks may trigger cardiovascular events like heart attack or cardiovascular-related death. Cardiovascular-related mortality is even higher among people who are exposed to fine particles for longer periods (e.g. a few years). The Environmental Public Health Tracking Network aims to help New Mexicans understand how the environment and heart health are connected.

Air pollution can affect heart health and can trigger heart attacks and strokes that cause disability and death.

The Air Quality and Cardiovascular Disease Co-Display Dashboard is a tool from the Environmental Public Health Tracking Network that provides information and a visualization of the connection between air quality and heart health.

CVD Dashboard

Co-Display Tool (897.4 KB)

The Tracking Network uses information from many health resources to help understand how air pollution and heart health are connected. It combines data about fine particle pollution, deaths, and population information from public health resources with information from scientific resources that shows how changes in air pollution affect health.

The Connection Between Heart Health and Air Pollution

Fine particle pollution, sometimes referred to as fine particulate matter or PM2.5, is a type of air pollution is made up of tiny particles in the air that are small enough to be breathed deeply into the lungs, where they can affect the heart and more. This type of pollution can cause the air to look hazy.

Exposure to fine particle pollution contributes to cardiovascular disease and death, according to the 2004 American Heart Association’s Scientific Statement on Air Pollution and Cardiovascular Disease. People who breathe fine particle pollution over a long time have more heart problems, like heart attacks, than people who do not breathe this kind of air pollution.

Short-term exposures (only hours or days) to fine particle pollution can increase the risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and irregular heartbeat in some people. Older people and people who have coronary artery disease or structural heart problems that they do not know about are also at increased risk for greater heart problems. The risk for cardiovascular disease and death is increased by short-term (only hours or days) and long-term exposure to fine particle pollution.

Breathing higher amounts of fine particle pollution even for a short time can increase the risk for cardiovascular death. In the United States each year, thousands of people die earlier than normal because they have breathed higher amounts of fine particle pollution for a short time. The World Health Organization has estimated that each year, more than 800,000 deaths are caused by breathing fine particle pollution long term. This pollution ranks thirteenth as a cause of death throughout the world.

Air Pollution and Heart Attacks

Increasingly, investigators both in the United States and abroad have shown significant relationships between air pollutants and increased risk for heart attack and other forms of coronary heart disease.

  • Models have demonstrated increases in heart attack hospitalization rates in relation to fine particles (PM2.5), particularly in sensitive sub-populations such as the elderly, patients with pre-existing heart disease, and particularly those who are survivors of heart attack or those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • An increase of 10 µg/m³ in PM2.5 was associated with a 4.5% elevation in risk of unstable angina (chest pain) and heart attack.
  • Mortality statistics have been linked for a 16-year period to chronic exposure to multiple air pollutants in 500,000 adults who resided across all 50 states.

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 What is Particulate Matter ( PM2.5, and PM10 )?

Particle pollution, also known as particulate matter, in the air includes a mixture of solids and liquid droplets. Some particles are emitted directly; others are formed in the atmosphere when other pollutants react. Particles come in a wide range of sizes. Those particles 10 micrometers or smaller in diameter (PM10) are so small that they can get into the lungs, potentially causing serious health problems. How small? Ten micrometers is smaller than the width of a single human hair.

PM2.5Fine particles are particles 2.5 micrometers or smaller in diameter. These particles are so small they can be detected only with an electron microscope. Examples of fine particles include all types of combustion from sources such as motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning,  forest fires, agricultural burning, and some industrial processes.

PM10Coarse dust particles are particles between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter. Sources of coarse particles include crushing or grinding operations and dust stirred up by vehicles traveling on roads.

Learn more about air quality:

Air Quality

Air Quality Data

Wildfire Smoke

Fire, Smoke and Your Health

Heart Attack Risks (previous page)

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