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Air Pollution and Heart Health

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Penn State College of Medicine researchers say that breathing polluted air increases stress on the heart’s regulation capacity, up to six hours after inhalation of combustion-related small particles called PM2.5.

This high stress may contribute to cardiovascular diseases, said Duanping Liao, professor of public health sciences.

The body’s ability to properly regulate heartbeat so the heart can pump the appropriate amounts of blood into the circulation system relies on the stability of the heart’s electrical activity, called electrophysiology.

"Air pollution is associated with cardiopulmonary mortality and morbidity, and it is generally accepted that impaired heart electrophysiology is one of the underlying mechanisms," said Fan He, master’s program graduate, Department of Public Health Sciences, Penn State College of Medicine.


"This impairment is exhibited through fluctuations in the heart rate from beat to beat over an established period of time, known as heart rate variability. It is also exhibited through a longer period for the electric activity to return to the baseline, known as ventricular repolarization.


The time course, how long it would take from exposure to cardiac response, has not been systematically investigated," said he. "We conducted this study to investigate the relationship between particle matter and heart electrophysiology impairment, especially the time course."


The team’s study amongst 106 people from central Pennsylvania indicated that heart electrophysiology was affected up to six hours after elevated PM2.5 exposure.


PM2.5 refers to particles up to 2.5 micrometers in size – released by diesel engine, coal, oil, gas or wood combustion. PM2.5 levels are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


"Our findings may contribute to further understanding of the pathophysiology of air pollution-related cardiac events, specifically our results indicating elevated PM2.5 exposure is associated with immediate disturbance of cardiac electrical activities within six hours after exposure," said Liao.





These results are published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology and in Environmental Health Prospective.

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Oh boy, this is all I need to hear! Our air quality here can get really bad, even though we're close to the coast. I have air purifiers but usually by the time I realize I need to turn them on, I'm already wheezing and coughing from the pollution.


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