Low levels of air pollution are linked to serious changes of the heart

7th August 2018

New research has shown that air pollution can be more damaging to our hearts than we originally thought. People exposed to even low levels of air pollution developed enlarged heart chambers which were linked to heart failure.

Researchers at Queen Mary University analysed data from around 4,000 participants in the UK Biobank study, where volunteers provided a range of personal information, including their lifestyles, health record and details on where they have lived. Participants also had blood tests and health scans, and heart MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) was used to measure the size, weight and function of the participants' hearts at fixed times.

The study found exposure to nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5 and PM10 particles, is linked to an increase in the size of two of the chambers of the heart, the left and right ventricle. PM particles are commonly emitted by motor vehicles, among other sources.

The authors add that similar changes can affect the performance of the heart and are often seen before heart failure takes hold.

Even though most lived outside busy city centres, the researchers said there was a pattern of enlarged heart tissue in those who lived near busy roads. It appeared to be similar to the early stages of heart disease. Air pollution is now the largest environmental risk factor linked to deaths in England. Globally, coronary heart disease and stroke account for approximately six in ten (58%) deaths related to outdoor air pollution.

Dr Nay Aung who led the data analysis from Queen Mary University of London said: 
“Although our study was observational and hasn’t yet shown a causal link, we saw significant changes in the heart, even at relatively low levels of air pollution exposure. Our future studies will include data from those living in inner cities like Central Manchester and London, using more in-depth measurements of heart function, and we would expect the findings to be even more pronounced and clinically important".

Robert Hall, Cardiomyopathy UK Support Nurse said: “This is concerning data obtained from an observational study and we look forward to seeing the findings of the more detailed studies planned”.