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Dirty Air Tied to Raised Risk of Strokes, Shorter Lives

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: Jan 30th 2019

new article illustration

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 30, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Americans who live and work in counties with dirty air have a shorter life expectancy and are more likely to die from a stroke, a new study suggests.

For the study, researchers analyzed health and air pollution data gathered from nearly 1,600 counties across the United States between 2005 and 2010. The study focused on adults aged 35 and older.

The type of air pollution studied is called PM 2.5. It contains inhalable particles produced by diesel engines and the burning of coal, biomass and kerosene. These fine particles have been shown to get into the circulatory system and damage health.

In 51 percent of the counties studied, annual average amounts of PM 2.5 exceeded federal standards.

The dirtier the air, the higher the rate of stroke deaths and the shorter life expectancy were for both men and women, the findings showed. The health threat was greatest in areas with higher poverty and fewer health providers.

The greatest exposure to dirty air was in the South, suggesting that PM 2.5 may contribute to the region's high stroke rate. Other possible contributors include poverty, diet, smoking, poor control of stroke risk factors and less availability of health services.

The study is scheduled to be presented Feb. 6 at an American Stroke Association conference in Honolulu. Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"To reduce the risk of stroke, clinicians should consider their patients' likely exposure to air pollution along with other risk factors," study lead author Dr. Longjian Liu said in an association news release. Liu is an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Liu suggested health care providers ask patients if they live or work in an industrial area, and whether they are aware of nearby pollution sources.

"Clinicians can then encourage at-risk patients to take measures to reduce their exposure when possible, such as avoiding major roadways during rush hour traffic, keeping car windows closed and setting the air conditioner to circulate internal air," Liu said.

Researchers are now examining links between higher levels of PM 2.5 pollution and risk for other leading causes of death, including heart disease, heart failure and cancer.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has more on the health effects of air pollution.