Heart Attacks and the Environment
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in New Hampshire and the U.S. It accounts for 29% of all deaths. Forty-eight percent (48%) of heart disease deaths occur in women. Every year, about 2,500 New Hampshire residents are admitted to the hospital because of a heart attack. Increasingly, investigators both in the United States and abroad have shown relationships between short and long term exposure to particulate air pollution and the increased risk of myocardial infarction, referred to as heart attack, and other forms of coronary heart disease. For example, researchers have demonstrated increases in heart attack hospitalization rates in relation to fine particles (PM2.5), particularly in sensitive groups, such as the elderly, patients with pre-existing heart disease, survivors of heart attack, or people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Exposure and Risk
Several factors can be involved in the increased risk for heart attacks. These factors can include health, lifestyle, and environment. Increases in air pollution have been linked to decreases in lung function and increases in heart attacks. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Air Quality Index, high levels of air pollution directly affect people with asthma and other types of lung or heart disease. Overall air quality has improved in the last 20 years, but urban areas are still a concern. The elderly and children are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution.
The level of environmental risk for heart attacks depends on several factors:
- the amount of pollution in the air,
- a person's exposure to the air pollution, and
- overall health
Other risks include conditions and behavioral factors, such as:
- high blood cholesterol levels,
- high blood pressure,
- exposure to tobacco smoke,
- poor diet,
- physical inactivity,
- obesity, and
- drinking too much alcohol
Heart disease can run in the family. Genetic factors likely play some role in high blood pressure, heart disease, and other vascular conditions. However, people with a family history of heart disease likely share common environments and risk factors that may increase their risk.
Reduce Your Risk
A heart attack can happen to anyone. Only when people take the time to learn which of the risk factors apply to them specifically can they take steps to eliminate or reduce them. The following are steps people can take to reduce their risk for a heart attack:
- Prevent and control high blood cholesterol
- Prevent and control high blood pressure
- Prevent and control diabetes
- Do not smoke
- Moderate alcohol use
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Do regular physical activity
- Eat a nutritious diet
Also, people can take steps to help protect their health from air pollution:
- Know their sensitivity to air pollution
- Know when air pollution may be bad in their area
- Stay aware of air pollution alerts (www.airquality.nh.gov) and follow their recommendations
- Plan activities when and where pollution levels are lower, using the Air Quality Index to guide planning
- Change their activity level
- Listen to their bodies
- Consult their health care provider
- Have their medication with them
Heart Attack Data
The EPHT Program tracks heart attack hospitalizations and two key air pollutants: ozone (O3) and fine particulate pollution (PM2.5). By linking these data sets, the EPHT Program will eventually track heart attack hospitalizations caused by air pollution alone. Data about heart attack hospitalizations are available on the NH Health WISDOM.
For more information about heart attack hospitalizations data (indicators and measures) for environmental public health tracking.
For more information:
- NH Healthy NH 2010 Plan
- NH "Working Together to Assure a Healthy Public"
- CDC Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention
- Healthy People 2010: Heart Disease and Stroke
- American Heart Association
- EPA Particulate Matter Information
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