Air pollution contributes to thousands of heart, lung related hospitalizations yearly, study finds

Long-term exposure to air pollution, including to levels below current U.S. standards, is associated with thousands of hospitalizations for cardiac and respiratory conditions yearly among people ages 65 and older, according to research published Feb. 22 in Circulation.

Researchers evaluated records from more than 63 million Medicare beneficiaries from 2000 to 2016. They assessed the relationship between long-term exposure to air pollution and hospitalizations for myocardial infarction, ischemic stroke, atrial fibrillation and flutter, and pneumonia. Three components of air pollution were measured: fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. 

They found each unit increase in the levels of air pollution components were linked to thousands of additional hospital admissions annually. 

Each unit increase of fine particulate matter, for example, was attributable to 2,536 additional strokes per year, according to the findings. Further, 637 additional hospitalizations for myocardial infarction, 1,575 for atrial fibrillation and 2,489 for pneumonia were attributable to each unit increase of fine particulate matter. 

Heightened risk for atrial fibrillation and stroke were also associated with long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide. For exposure to ozone, pneumonia was the only health outcome that appeared to be affected. 

"People should be conscious of the air quality in the region where they live to avoid harmful exposure over long periods of time, if possible," said Mahdieh Denesh Yazdi, PharmD, PhD, lead study author. "Since our study found harmful effects at levels below current U.S. standard, air pollution should be considered as a risk factor for cardiovascular and respiratory disease by clinicians, and policy makers should reconsider current standards for air pollutants." 

To view the full findings, click here. 

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