Link between air pollution and irregular heart rhythms identified

According to new research, teenage hearts may be liable to skip a beat within two hours of air pollution exposure. 

A potential link between poor air quality and irregular heart rhythms has been identified by scientists at the Penn State College of Medicine, whose work has just been published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. 

Breathing particulate matter has long-been understood to cause a number of health problems in adults, but now correlations between heart beats and exposure to this form of pollution in young people have been identified for the first time. 

red heart and man hanging drawing

‘While relatively rare, irregular heart rhythms can lead to sudden cardiac death in otherwise healthy adolescents and young adults. Our findings linking air pollution to irregular heart rhythms suggest that particulate matter may contribute to the risk of sudden cardiac death among youth,’ said Fan He, PhD, lead author of the study and an instructor in public health sciences at the Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania.

‘Since childhood and adolescent cardiovascular conditions can track into adulthood and affect risk of major cardiovascular disease later in life, identifying modifiable risk factors of cardiac arrhythmia that may cause sudden cardiac death among adolescents should be of great public interest,’ they added. 

The conclusion was made following analysis of health data for 322 adolescents, whose average age was 17, lived in Pennsylvania and had taken part in the Penn State Child Cohort study between 2002 and 2006. Participants were then recruited into a follow up study that began around seven years later, running 2010-2013. All were considered healthy and at low-risk from cardiovascular problems, including irregular heart rhythms. Particulate matter exposure and EKG tracings for each teen’s heart were measured at this second stage. 

Overall, the findings showed that 79% of participants had at least one irregular heart rhythm during the 24 hours of the study, with a 5% increase in premature ventricular contractions within two hours of exposure for every 10 µg/m3 increase in PM2.5 particulate matter. 

Image: Nick Fewings


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