Dirty air triggers more heart attacks than cocaine

By Reuters
Thursday, February 24, 2011 10:20 EDT
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LONDON (Reuters) – Air pollution triggers more heart attacks than using cocaine and poses as high a risk of sparking a heart attack as alcohol, coffee and physical exertion, scientists said on Thursday.

Sex, anger, marijuana use and chest or respiratory infections and can also trigger heart attacks to different extents, the researchers said, but air pollution, particularly in heavy traffic, is the major culprit.

The findings, published in The Lancet journal, suggest population-wide factors like polluted air should be taken more seriously when looking at heart risks, and should be put into context beside higher but relatively rarer risks like drug use.

Tim Nawrot of Hasselt University in Belgium, who led the study, said he hoped his findings would also encourage doctors to think more often about population level risks.

“Physicians are always looking at individual patients — and low risk factors might not look important at an individual level, but if they are prevalent in the population then they have a greater public health relevance,” he said in a telephone interview.

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes air pollution as “a major environmental risk to health” and estimates that it causes around 2 million premature deaths worldwide every year.

Nawrot’s team combined data from 36 separate studies and calculated the relative risk posed by a series of heart attack triggers and their population-attributable fraction (PAF) — in other words the proportion of total heart attacks estimated to have been caused by each trigger.

The highest risk PAF was exposure to traffic, followed by physical exertion, alcohol, coffee, air pollution, and then things like anger, sex, cocaine use, smoking marijuana and respiratory infections.

“Of the triggers for heart attack studied, cocaine is the most likely to trigger an event in an individual, but traffic has the greatest population effect as more people are exposed to (it),” the researchers wrote. “PAFs give a measure of how much disease would be avoided if the risk was no longer present.”

A report published late last year found that air pollution in many major cities in Asia exceeds the WHO’s air quality guidelines and that toxic cocktails of pollutants results in more than 530,000 premature deaths a year.

While passive smoking was not included in this study, Nawrot said the effects of second-hand smoke were likely to be similar to that of outdoor air pollution, and noted previous research which found that bans on smoking in public places have significantly reduced heart attack rates.

British researchers said last year that a ban on smoking in public places in England led to a swift and significant drop in the number of heart attacks, saving the health service 8.4 million pounds ($13 million) in the first year.

Tim Chico, a heart specialist at the University of Sheffield who was not involved in this research, said it would help health authorities focus on which are the most important triggers.

“However, what triggers the heart attack should be considered the “last straw.” The foundations of heart disease that lead to a heart attack are laid down over many years,” he said in an emailed comment. “If someone wants to avoid a heart attack they should focus on not smoking, exercising, eating a healthy diet and maintaining their ideal weight.”

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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  • http://twitter.com/Tao_of_Ray Ray

    I guess I need to stay inside with my safer choice…

    Should we ban air now?

  • Anonymous

    DEA should declare war on sex and pollution.

  • http://twitter.com/btmfdrsheaven rebecca meritt

    I feel so much better about cocaine usage, now.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PERXL7QX24UGNVTL7WFUCMBNII Aqua Regia

    In general Indoor air is many more times polluted than outside air.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PERXL7QX24UGNVTL7WFUCMBNII Aqua Regia

    While the risks of illicit drug use are generally grossly overblown by government agencies and the media, this comparison of the dangers of cardiac damage from cocaine use versus dirty air is ridiculous. Everybody breathes air, a relatively small number use cocaine. Comparing watermelons to grapes.

  • http://voxxrocks.com/blog/ HIStory Indeed

    Don’t be silly, the culprit is second hand smoke. Mayor Bloomberg told us so, ha…

    Ya see folks, the real problems that plague us are too big to be solved with the limited technology they pretend we’re forced to use, so they’ll just continue to play let’s make a law and phuck with our future.

  • Anonymous

    big surprise, EPA in 2003 stated that breathing the air, if it is air, in america’s 30 largest cities is the carcinogenic equivalent of smoking 18 cigs a day or more… and last november, the brit soc of medicine reported in teh lancet journal that their study of american and english stats shows that alcohol is hundreds of times more deadly than all of the illegal drugs combined… 60+ million americans in the last century died fro efects of over-drinking; 4.8 mln more died from drunk drivers; 2.1mln died from murders committed by those intoxicated on booze… that’s about 80mln… compare that to the half a million who are known to have died from the illegal drugs in that whole century… yet 37 mlln americans have been prisoners of the drug war, including 31mln for harmless marijuana!

    merck pharma trademarked the name cocaine in 1867 and for decades was its flagship bestseller worldwide. edison, merck’s poster-boy for it said at retirement “if not for cocaine, you might still be reading by candle-llight.” and in the 1920s, americans still gave their kids cocaine mints for a toothache!

    the entirety of the reasons for drugwar are profit and control… and look at the racist disparity of the prisoners of the drugwar… nazi as apartheid.

  • Anonymous

    Ban it, no. We need a “War on Air!”

  • parrots_abound

    Exactly how many people are dying of ‘cocaine’ heart attacks?

    “The highest risk PAF was exposure to traffic, followed by physical exertion, alcohol, coffee, air pollution, and then things like anger, sex, cocaine use, smoking marijuana and respiratory infections.”

    Articles like this are just inane. “Exposure to traffic” then says “air pollution” then coffee, then anger, then SEX???

    Don’t drive, don’t get angry, don’t drink coffee, don’t have sex, don’t exercise.


  • Guest

    Not when one has several HEPA/Carbon filters scrubbing the air multiple times per minute.

  • Anonymous

    Of course the right wing media will decry this study since it means giving the EPA actual enforcement abilities to protect Americans from pollution.

  • Anonymous

    Cocaines a hell of a drug!

  • Anonymous

    We can all agree that ‘pollution’ is an evil and needs regulation in order to minimise it (backed by reduction targets, law enforcement and BIG fines to the polluters) – somehow the major polluters have shifted the goal posts and all we ever hear about is ‘climate change’, the first is undeniable, the later is up for debate. I say NO to carbon taxes and carbon credit schemes, and say YES to “Either you b*stards stop pumping out xxxx into the environment or we will close you down, take all your cash/assets AND jail all your directors”. Being nice I will let these souless (yet somehow ‘people’, at least according to the US Supreme Court?!?!?!?) companies have a few months/years to get their acts together, after that its either shape up or ship out. If we still need to drag them into line, then I am all for sending to jail the major shareholders..we could make it a crime to actively invest in ‘evil activities’ (would likely do a top job of keeping the MIC in line :D).