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Is Air Pollution Killing You? The Startling Link Between Air Pollution and Heart Attack

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

Air pollution is a significant health concern globally. Each year air pollution accounts for 6.5 million deaths. Sadly, this number has only been increasing over the last two decades

Car emissions, natural gas, power generation, by-products of manufacturing, chemical production, and methane are just some of the causes of air pollution.

An important part of air pollution to understand is particulate matter (PM). Particulate matter (PM) is a complex mixture of various chemical compounds such as sulfates, nitrates, carbon, and mineral dust. Fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) is approximately 30 times thinner than human hair and can penetrate deep into lung tissue. This particulate matter accounts for most of the health effects of air pollution in the United States.

In a new study presented at European Society of Cardiology Congress, De Buhr-Stockburger and colleagues analyzed data from 17,873 heart attack cases from 2008 to 2014 using the Berlin Brandenburg Myocardial Infarction Registry. The research also examined detailed regional air pollution data from the BLUME network, including daily levels of nitric oxide and particulate matter with a diameter of less than 10 µm (PM10). They included both single-day and 3-day averages to look at trends in air pollution

Researchers then examined the correlation between acute myocardial infarction (MI) occurrences and the levels of pollutants in the air on the same day, the prior day, and an average of three days.

The researchers found that heart attacks were significantly more common on days with high nitric oxide concentrations. Specifically, there was a 3.2% higher incidence for every 10 µg/m3 increase on the same day (P < .001). In addition, heart attacks were also more common when there was a high average particulate matter (PM10) concentration during the 3 preceding days: 4.8% higher incidence for every 10 µg/m3 increase in PM10 concentration.

One caveat in the study was that heart attack incidence among smokers was not affected by nitric oxide and PM10 concentrations. This may be because smokers constantly inhale air pollutants at a substantially higher magnitude than air pollution exposure.

Although the study cannot prove causation, the risk of air pollution on our health should be taken seriously, and there is so much we can do to lower air pollution.


de Buhr-Stockburger I, et al. Coronary artery disease – Epidemiology, prognosis, outcome 2. Presented at: European Society of Cardiology Congress; Aug. 26-29, 2022; Barcelona, Spain (hybrid meeting).

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