Pollution causes rates of angioplasties to spiral, say scientists

Rates of emergency heart attack treatment to clear blocked arteries ‘are higher when levels of air pollution spike’

  • Doctors at a hospital in Krakow, Poland used data from nearly 16,000 patients 
  • All of the patients had undergone an angioplasty – often an emergency surgery
  • The procedure, which widens narrowed arteries, is common after a heart attack
  • Rates of the operation were higher during pollution spikes and in the winter 

Spikes in air pollution could cause more people to need surgery to clear blocked arteries, research suggests.

Researchers in Poland found rates of angioplasty procedures are more common when levels of tiny pollutants increase. 

The life-changing procedures also occur more in winter – the most polluted time of the year, according to the study.

Doctors at the University Hospital in Krakow used data from nearly 16,000 patients who had undergone the operation. 

Angioplasties, which involve placing a stent in narrow or blocked arteries, are often emergency procedures after a heart attack. 

Researchers in Poland found rates of angioplasty procedures are more common in areas plagued by toxic air

Almost two thirds of the volunteers lived in polluted cities, which were plagued by high levels of a tiny pollutant called PM10.   

PM10, particles ten micrometers or less in diameter, can be inhaled deep into the lungs where they irritate the lining and enter the bloodstream.

Sources include industrial processes like iron making and quarrying, lawn mowing, wood and coal stoves, bushfires, dust storms, and vehicle exhaust emissions. 

Average concentrations were 50.95 μg/m3 – well above the guideline limit by the World Health Organization of 20μg/m3. 

In contrast, the other third of participants came from unpolluted cities, which had PM10 levels of 26.62 μg/m3, on average. 

The researchers compared the air quality on the date of the procedures – which are often dished out in an emergency – with the average over the course of a year. 

In both polluted and unpolluted cities, a rise in PM10 concentration was significantly associated with a greater frequency of the procedure.

Every 1μg/m3 increase in PM10 concentration was linked to an additional 0.22 stent procedures per week in the cleaner cities.

This was the equivalent of 2.2 extra procedures every 10 weeks. For polluted cities, the rate was 0.18 per week – 1.8 extra every 10 weeks.

The researchers also analysed how rates of angioplasties varied between the winter and other seasons.

They found the procedure was much more common in the colder months, in both the polluted and clean cities. 

‘The higher incidence in winter is related to greater air pollution during this period,’ said study author Dr Rafal Januszek.

He added: ‘This is due to several factors such as artificial heating and the resulting smog.

‘The study shows that the incidence of acute coronary syndromes treated with PCI was higher in winter and rose along with increasing pollution.

‘This is further evidence that more needs to be done to lower pollution levels and protect the public’s health.’ 

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Air pollution is a public health emergency and is responsible for up to 11,000 heart and circulatory deaths every year in the UK alone.

‘This latest research shows that a rise in urban air pollution increases the number of people admitted to hospital for heart attack.

‘This extends the findings from recent studies that show a significant increase in exposure to airborne pollution in cities is linked with a small, but detectable, increase in deaths – the majority of which are caused by heart and circulatory diseases.

‘This was noticeable in cities with both good and poor air quality, when pollution was highest, emphasising the importance of introducing stricter standards to reduce deaths caused by urban air pollution.

‘Currently, the UK subscribes to EU guidelines on air pollution, which are far more lenient than those set out by the World Health Organisation. 

‘We desperately need to see the Government protect the nation’s health by setting out a clear and robust plan to adopt these stricter guidelines by 2030.’

The findings will be presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s Congress 2019 in Paris. 


CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE A LOW IQ: Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found in May 2019 that children born to mothers who live in polluted areas have an IQ that is up to seven points lower than those living in places with cleaner air.

CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE POORER MEMORY: Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found boys exposed to greater levels of PM2.5 in the womb  performed worse on memory tests by the time they are 10.

DELAY THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHILDREN: Youngsters who live less than one-third of a mile away from busy roads are twice as likely to score lower on tests of communication skills in infancy, found researchers at Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health in April. They were also more likely to have poorer hand-eye coordination.

MAKE CHILDREN MORE ANXIOUS: University of Cincinnati scientists claimed pollution may alter the structure of children’s brains to make them more anxious. Their study of 14 youngsters found rates of anxiety was higher among those exposed to greater levels of pollution. 

CUT YOUR CHILD’S LIFE SHORT: Children born today will lose nearly two years of their lives because of air pollution, according to a report by the US-based Health Effects Institute and the University of British Columbia in April 2019. UNICEF called for action on the back of the study.

RAISE A CHILD’S RISK OF AUTISM: Researchers at Monash University in Australia discovered youngsters living in highly polluted parts of Shanghai have a 86 per cent greater chance of developing ASD. Lead author Dr Yuming Guo said: ‘The developing brains of young children are more vulnerable to toxic exposures in the environment.’

CAUSE ASTHMA IN CHILDREN: Four million children around the world develop asthma each year because of road traffic pollution, a major study by academics at George Washington University estimated. Experts are divided as to what causes asthma – but exposure to pollution in childhood increases the risk by damaging the lungs.

MAKE CHILDREN FAT: University of Southern California experts found last November that 10 year olds who lived in polluted areas when they were babies are, on average, 2.2lbs (1kg), heavier than those who grew up around cleaner air. Nitrogen dioxide pollution could disrupt how well children burn fat, the scientists said. 

LEAVE WOMEN INFERTILE EARLIER: Scientists at the University of Modena, Italy, claimed in May 2019 that they believe pollution speeds up ageing in women, just like smoking, meaning they run out of eggs faster. This was based on them finding almost two-thirds of women who have a low ‘reserve’ of eggs regularly inhaled toxic air.

RAISE THE RISK OF A MISCARRIAGE: University of Utah scientists found in January that pregnant women are 16 per cent more likely to suffer the heartbreak of a miscarriage if they live in areas of high pollution.  

RAISE THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER: Scientists at the University of Stirling found six women working at the same bridge next to a busy road in the US got breast cancer within three years of each other. There was a one in 10,000 chance the cases were a coincidence, the study said. It suggested chemicals in the traffic fumes caused the cancer by shutting down the BRCA genes, which try to stop tumours growing. 

DAMAGE A MAN’S SPERM: Brazilian scientists at the University of Sao Paulo found in March that mice exposed to toxic air had lower counts and worse quality sperm compared to those who had inhaled clean air since birth. 

MAKE MEN LESS LIKELY TO GET SEXUALLY AROUSED: Scientists at Guangzhou Medical University in China found rats exposed to air pollution struggled to get sexually aroused. Scientists believe it may also affect men, as inhaling poisonous particles may trigger inflammation in blood vessels and starve the genitals of oxygen – affecting men’s ability to become sexually aroused.

MAKE MEN MORE LIKELY TO HAVE ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION:  Men who live on main roads are more likely to have difficulty getting an erection due to exposure to pollution, a Guangzhou University in China study suggested in February. Toxic fumes reduced blood flow to the genitals, tests on rats showed, putting them at risk of developing erectile dysfunction. 

RAISE THE RISK OF PSYCHOSIS: In March, King’s College London scientists linked toxic air to intense paranoia and hearing voices in young people for the first time. They said uncovering exactly how pollution may lead to psychosis should be an ‘urgent health priority’.

MAKE YOU DEPRESSED: Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found in January that that the more polluted the air, the sadder we are. Their study was based on analysing social media users in China alongside the average daily PM2.5 concentration and weather data where they lived.

CAUSE DEMENTIA: Air pollution could be responsible for 60,000 cases of dementia in the UK, researchers from King’s College London and St George’s, University of London, calculated last September. Tiny pollutants breathed deep into the lungs and enter the blood stream, where they may travel into the brain and cause inflammation – a problem which may trigger dementia.

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