May 2, 2023 – A new study gives people at risk of heart problems a good reason to keep an eye on the daily air quality warnings often included in weather reports. Researchers found a direct relationship between air pollution increases and the risk of having irregular heartbeat problems such as atrial fibrillation.
The authors of the study, which was published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, said their findings were important because previous studies of air pollution’s impact on heart rhythm problems have had mixed results, although they noted that many of the studies had problems with how they were designed.
This latest study’s goal was to examine the relationship between air pollution and the start of irregular heartbeat problems, collectively known as arrhythmias, at an hourly level. The researchers looked at health information for more than 190,000 people and air pollution data from China between 2015 and 2021. The health data came from a Chinese health database that included hourly-level records of when people had irregular heartbeat problems at more than 2,000 hospitals spanning 322 Chinese cities. The researchers layered that data with hourly air pollution readings taken from near the hospitals.
The types arrhythmias included in the study were atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, atrial and ventricular premature beats, and supraventricular tachycardia. An irregular heartbeat means the heart can’t pump blood properly, which could result in the lungs, brain, or other organs being damaged or shutting down, according to the American Heart Association.
The increased risk from air pollution exposure typically subsided after 24 hours. Air pollution had the biggest impact on the odds of having atrial flutter and supraventricular tachycardia. The pollutant nitrogen dioxide had the strongest impact on someone’s odds of having arrhythmia.The authors noted that there was no minimum air pollution level that appeared to trigger symptoms. In all of their calculations, as air pollution increased, so did the odds of having arrhythmia. Air pollution had the strongest impact on men, on people younger than age 65, and during colder seasons.They wrote that the results highlight “the importance of further reducing exposure to air pollution and of prompt protection of susceptible populations worldwide.”