Data Roundup: The Impact of Air Quality on the Heart

Man suffering heart disease from air quality

Heart diseases aren’t only caused by what you consume. 

They’re also caused by what you breathe.  

While it's true that eating highly processed and fatty foods is considered one of the driving forces of cardiovascular diseases, breathing in air pollution can also be a factor. According to recent studies, 5.5 million people die annually from heart disease and strokes caused by air pollution. 

So, how does air pollution affect the heart and what can you do to prevent it? 

Today, we’re diving into the research on air pollution and cardiovascular diseases. We’ll also be sharing tips on how to minimize your exposure to poor air quality so you can improve your own heart health. 

How Does Air Pollution Contribute to Cardiovascular Disease? 

While bigger particle pollution, like coarse particulate matter (PM10), can be filtered by your nose and upper airways, smaller particles cannot. This includes fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which is about 30 times smaller than a human hair.  

Because of this, PM2.5 can penetrate your organs, blood vessels, and other parts of your body.  

According to an air quality study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), long-term exposure to PM2.5 can cause your blood vessels to age faster. Moreover, it increases calcium and plaque buildup in your arteries, limiting blood flow and increasing blood pressure. As such, it aggravates the risk of a heart attack or stroke. 

The Harvard Medical School also explains that PM2.5 can affect the nerves and receptors responsible for regulating heart rate, breathing, and other vital functions. In consequence, you’re more likely to develop heart rhythm disorders, such as arrhythmia and atrial fibrillation, the higher the PM2.5 exposure. 

What Cardiovascular Diseases Are Related to Air Pollution? 

Of the 3.2 million deaths attributed to household air pollution exposure, the World Health Organization reports that 32% are from ischemic heart disease and 23% are from stroke. 

Other heart diseases linked with air pollution are: 

  • Arrhythmia: A disease when your heart beats too fast or too slow.
  • Atrial Fibrillation: A disorder that leads to irregular heart rhythm due to blood clots.
  • Acute Coronary Syndrome: A range of conditions that result in reduced blood flow to the heart. 
  • Heart Failure: A condition when your heart can no longer pump enough blood for your body.
  • Hypertension: A condition where the blood pushing out of your arteries is consistently too high, meaning that your heart is overworked.
  • Left Ventricular Hypertrophy: A condition when the walls of your heart thicken, resulting in your heart pumping inefficiently.
  • Cardiac Death: When the heart stops functioning, leading to death.

People with cardiovascular diseases and who are exposed to PM2.5 can experience the following symptoms

  • Fatigue 
  • Lightheadedness 
  • Chest tightness 
  • Pain in the chest, neck, or shoulder 
  • Sudden numbness 
  • Heart palpitations 

Tips to Protect Your Heart from Air Pollution 

Although poor air quality can increase the risk of heart disease, it’s important to know that you can take measures to protect yourself from it. Below are seven different ways you can minimize your exposure to air pollution: 

  1. Make air quality monitoring a habit. By monitoring your air quality consistently, you can make more informed decisions to mitigate air pollution at home and avoid it outdoors
  2. Consider exercising indoors. While exercising can help fight cardiovascular diseases, doing it outdoors when air quality index levels are unhealthy outweighs its benefits. Instead, consider exercising indoors during these times. 
  3. Wear a mask during high air pollution events. Masks, like the N95, help filter out particulate matter and reduce air pollution inhalation. 
  4. Use an air purifier to improve indoor air quality. Air purifiers work by filtering out particle pollution, allowing you to breathe cleaner air at home. 
  5. Prepare a clean room. Clean rooms are a safe, breathable space for you and your family during dangerous air pollution events, like wildfires.
  6. Keep car windows closed. Traffic is one of the most common sources of air pollution exposure. So, keep your windows closed when you’re on the road. 
  7. Seek professional help. If you feel unwell, especially after heavy exposure to air pollution, it’s best to seek medical help to get the proper treatment.

The effect of air pollution on cardiovascular health is undeniable. With multiple scientific studies showing that PM2.5 can contribute to heart diseases, it’s vital to make data-driven decisions to reduce air pollution exposure and protect your heart. 

Connect With PurpleAir  

At PurpleAir, there are tons of organizations and researchers around the world using our data—from Google to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We’re thrilled to see research like the one we analyzed above be used to help local neighborhoods, and we look forward to seeing more in the future.  

Are you a technology company or institution looking to work with PurpleAir?  

We’d love to connect and see how we can help you. Whether you’re interested in our air quality monitors or using our air quality data for your projects, feel free to reach out.