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Air pollution emerging as third major risk factor for heart disease

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Mumbai: Air pollution is emerging as the third major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases (CVD) in India. It is perhaps lagging behind only the two traditional reasons believed to cause heart ailments so far – poor dietary habits and blood pressure. These are the findings of a reputed international medical journal, Lancet Global Health, published in its latest edition. Health experts from the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) and Indian Council Medical Research (ICMR) collected the India specific data from the medical journals published in the past 25 years.

They analysed the data of changing trends, lifestyle patterns, incidence, deaths due to heart diseases and risk factors in the country from 1990 to 2016. Data revealed that leading risk factors for cardiovascular diseases in 2016 included dietary risks (56.4 per cent), hypertension (54.6 per cent) and air pollution (31.1 per cent). The findings noted that cardiovascular diseases contributed to 28.1 per cent of total deaths and 14.1 per cent of Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) in India in 2016, compared with 15.2 per cent and 6.9 per cent respectively in 1990.

Hinduja Healthcare’s consultant cardiologist, Dr Snehil Mishra said, almost 25 per cent of heart diseases occur in people with no traditional risk factors. There is growing evidence that air pollution is strongly linked to heart disease and this may be one of the ‘unknown’ causes of a number of heart attacks.


“Small particulate matter and many toxic chemicals released in the air from vehicles and industries have been shown to damage the arteries supplying the heart. Elderly, women and patients already suffering from cardiac issues are at higher risk to be affected by air pollution and hence they must especially take care during times of the day when air pollution concentration is known to be high, added Dr Mishra.

The study has clearly stated that the exposure to ambient air pollution increased in India to varying degrees in different states from 1990 to 2016. In the past two-and-half decades, cases of cardiovascular disease have increased in India, from 2.57 crore in 1990 to 5.47 crore in 2016, with 13 lakh and 28 lakh deaths in the corresponding years respectively.

Dr Rahul Gupta, consultant, cardiology, Apollo Hospitals, Navi Mumbai said toxic gases in the air can indirectly impact the endothelium, which makes up the inner lining of blood vessels. This, along with free radicals generated in the body damage the inner lining of the blood vessels, resulting in cholesterol deposits in these areas, which can cause development of plaque.

“Any kind of pollutant, such as carbon monoxide and heavy metal ( for example cadmium is present in tyres) along with traffic pollution, burning, crackers, cigarette smoke etc all lead to toxic pollutant leakage in the atmosphere. When these are inhaled, it makes the arteries stiff which causes cholesterol and plaque build-up, resulting in heart issues,” added Dr Gupta

He further added, pollution has to be addressed by government policies. What people can do is to try and keep away from cigarette smoke, industrial smoke and areas with heavy pollution. “Since exposure to toxic air is beyond our control because these are environmental factors, what we can also do is make our bodies stronger by practising a healthy lifestyle, good diet, living a stress-free lifestyle, managing blood pressure, keeping weight in check, exercising regularly. This will help keep the body strong and reduce the damage caused by air pollutants,” Dr Gupta said.

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