A 2010 position paper from the American Heart Association confirms evidence that air pollution can contribute to and exacerbate CHD. This is especially true if you are exposed to the pollution over long periods of time and have other susceptibilities, such as diabetes, pre-existing CHD or advanced age.

Evidence suggests that air pollution, especially the small particle type emitted by traffic, can contribute to atherosclerosis and increase your likelihood of a heart attack. Researchers also now believe that air pollution can affect blood vessel function, increase blood clotting, raise blood pressure and disrupt the electrical activity of the heart.

If you live in a place where there's a lot of air pollution, you can take steps to reduce the risks. For example, limit your time outside when the Air Quality Index is high (151 to 200), try to travel during no-rush hours and opt to exercise indoors. When you do venture outside, reduce your level of exertion on days when the air pollution is high. This advice is especially important if you already have CHD or have several risk factors for it.

In March 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that about 7 million people worldwide died as a result of air pollution exposure in 2012. According to WHO, air pollution is the largest environmental health risk in the world. New information reveals a strong link between indoor and outdoor air pollution and heart disease and stroke, as well as lung disease and cancer.

WHO reports that South-East Asia and Western Pacific areas of the world are the regions in which health is most affected by air pollution—with approximately 3.3 million deaths linked to indoor air pollution in 2012 and 2.6 related to outdoor air pollution. Women, children, and the elderly who live in poverty are at the highest risk because they often spend more time indoors breathing air affected by leaky coal and wood stoves.

Outdoor air pollution-related deaths in 2012:

  • 40 percent resulted from ischemic heart disease
  • 40 percent resulted from stroke
  • 11 percent resulted from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis)
  • 6 percent resulted from lung cancer
  • 3 percent resulted from acute lung infections in children

Indoor air pollution-related deaths in 2012:

  • 34 percent resulted from stroke
  • 26 percent resulted from ischemic heart disease
  • 22 percent resulted from COPD
  • 12 percent resulted from acute respiratory infections in children
  • 6 percent resulted from lung cancer

The WHO reports that health risks associated with air pollution—especially the risk of heart disease and stroke—appear to be much greater than previously thought. Healthier strategies in areas of transportation, industry, waste management, energy, and others are needed and the development of WHO-sponsored worldwide programs on air quality and health is ongoing.

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: Gary Gerstenblith, M.D., Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D.; the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 05 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 26 Mar 2014