Heart attack is one of the leading causes of death for both men and women all over the world. Major risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption are known to trigger this condition, but now a car's fume, a major environmental pollutant, has been found not only to increase the risk, but also to trigger an attack as fast as six hours after exposure.
For those already battling a heart disease, inhaling fumes from car exhaust can increase a heart attack risk. A heart attack occurs if the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked.
According to a research done by a team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, inhaling heavy amounts of traffic fumes can trigger a heart attack. They also found that the chance of suffering an attack increased by 1.3% in six hours after coming in contact with high levels of vehicle-related pollutants.
Air pollution is currently estimated to reduce the life expectancy by an average of seven to eight months, probably by affecting the heart and lungs.
In this latest study, an epidemiologist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and his colleagues found that rising air pollution was linked to a rise in heart attacks up to six hours after exposure.
They reviewed 79,288 heart attack cases over a period of time and exposure, by the hour, to pollution levels.
They also investigated the levels of specific pollutants in the atmosphere which included pollutant particles (PM10), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and ozone.
Higher levels of PM10 - tiny toxic particles - and NO2 are well-known markers of traffic related pollution from vehicle exhaust fumes, according to the epidemiologist.
Dr. Charles Agadu, a medical practitioner says fumes is not only dangerous to health but also among the leading causes of heart attack all over the world.
Fumes contains carbon monoxide (CO) which is highly toxic to the respiratory system. When inhaled in large doses or amounts, it mixes with blood and oxygen. When this happens, it prevents oxygen from circulating round the body. It stops the oxygen from performing its function of nourishing and giving air or supplying air to the vital organs.
Fumes does not only contain CO but Lead, another poisonous gas that is toxic to the kidney, says Agadu.
However, those that have histories of cardiac ailments, hypertension, diabetes , high blood pressure are more prone to heart attack than the ordinary people with no history of any of the mentioned ailments, he said.
People with a condition called hypercholesterolemia(high cholesterol) are equally very prone to heart attacks on inhaling large doses of fumes, he added.
Fumes from generators also contain high amount of carbon monoxide which is why we have had cases in the past where people put on their generators overnight and by morning they are dead because they inhale high amounts of fumes which interferes with oxygen supply to the body but cutting short the oxygen supply that in turn leads to death, Agadu emphasised.
Those that have been diagnosed with heart disease should always try as they not to stay too long in areas where there are likely to be high traffic pollution levels, such as busy roads where cars emit high doses of fumes that are toxic to human, he advised.
People who are sensitive to air pollution are advised to spend less time outdoors during high and very high episodes of air pollution, and not to exercise along with those suffering from asthma and heart disease. These could help reduce the risk of suffering a sudden heart attack.
The research also estimated there would be an extra five per cent risk of a heart attack caused by a change in air pollution from 'low' to 'moderate' in the following six hours while the risk would increase further during 'high' and 'very high' episodes.
People who are prone to heart attack in later period may have simply had their heart attack brought forward by a few hours as a result of the pollution, but many studies showed that there are more deaths when pollution levels are higher. But whether heart attacks make a major contribution to this is not clear.
Facts about car fumes
• Car exhaust has also been linked to asthma, bronchitis, and other health hazards.
• Cars pollute the air, water and land.
• Cars today are in fact much cleaner than 30 years ago. But, there are many more cars driving many more miles.
• Cars and trucks cause a lot of air pollution in the world today, and contribute a lot to the most common and dangerous air pollutants.
• SUVs pollute a lot more than cars.
• Most ozone pollution is caused by cars and trucks.
• Your car makes carbon dioxide based only on how many gallons of gasoline it burns.
• It's not the kind of car you drive, but how many miles you drive it and how many gallons of gas you burn that count.
• The air within a few hundred yards near, and of big streets, is most likely polluted with harmful particulates from, and stirred up by, traffic.
• China and the USA alone produce close to half of the world's carbon dioxide...much of that from cars.