Traffic Exposure Linked to Heart Attack

From the American Heart Association:

PALM HARBOR, Fla., March 13, 2009 —People who have had a heart attack are likely to report having been in traffic shortly before their symptoms began, researchers reported at the American Heart Association’s 49th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention.

In a German study of patients who had a heart attack, researchers found the patients to be more than three times as likely to have been in traffic within an hour of the onset of their heart attack. The researchers also observed small but statistically significant increases in the chance that a heart attack occurred within six hours after exposure to traffic.

Driving a car was the most common source of traffic exposure, but taking public transportation or riding a bicycle were other forms of exposure to traffic. Overall, time spent in any mode of transportation in traffic was associated with a 3.2 times higher risk than time spent away from this trigger. Females, elderly males, patients who were unemployed, and those with a history of angina were affected the most by traffic.

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3 Responses to “Traffic Exposure Linked to Heart Attack”

  • brad says:

    Importantly, particulate matter and other pollutants linked to heart disease and cancer drop off fairly quickly when you’re not actually riding in traffic but off in a bike path to the side. You’re still getting exposed (talk to anyone who lives in an apartment near a busy road and you’ll see that particulates can travel a good distance from the source), but nowhere near as much as when you ride in traffic.

    Interestingly, an article on autopsies in a recent issue of Granta had a quote from a doctor that most city dwellers’ lungs have dark streaks of soot in them.

  • John says:

    Brad, riding a bike in traffic still exposes you to less pollutants than riding in a car: Cyclists Can Breath Easy. Coincidentally, that same article links to another that goes perfect with this EcoVelo article: Traffic Kills 10 Times More People Than Traffic Accidents

  • brad says:

    “Less pollutants” yes, but still levels that could be considered risky. Especially riding in traffic behind municipal buses, trucks, etc., that emit lots of particulate matter.

    The average ambient concentration of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) in U.S. counties that have monitoring stations for particulate matter (representing about 70 percent of the U.S. population) is roughly 80 percent of the EPA standard. That means fine particulates in the air we normally breathe outdoors is already getting close to the concentration that EPA would start to consider risky. Riding in traffic is going to bump your exposure quite a bit higher still. It’s true that you could be exposed to even higher levels if you were in an enclosed car, but I still wouldn’t say riding a bike in traffic presents little risk to your health.

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