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Traffic can literally trigger heart attack: study

Oct. 20, 2004 by Canadian Broadcasting Company

TORONTO - Heavy traffic not only stresses drivers out, it can actually increase the risk of a heart attack in susceptible people, doctors have found.

Researchers found exposure to traffic can triple the risk of a heart attack in people who are already prone to having one, whether they are drivers, cyclists, pedestrians or riders of public transit.

Dr. Jonathan Howlett

The study, which was partly funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, appears in Thursday's issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Lead investigator Annette Peters, at the GSF National Research Center in Neuherberg, Germany, and colleagues collected data from about 700 people in southern Germany who had a heart attack.

Peters' team reported eight per cent of the heart attacks were linked to traffic, after accounting for the effect of hard exercise among cyclists and the typical morning stresses previously linked to heart attacks.

"They found that if you were going to have a heart attack that it was more likely to happen within an hour of being exposed to traffic," said Dr. Jonathan Howlett, a cardiologist in Halifax.

The study's authors put most of the blame for the increased risk on microscopic air pollutants.


Evidence that air pollution can play a role in heart disease has been accumulating, noted Dr. Jack Tu, a senior scientist with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto.

"Certain particles in the air may cause what we call a coronary plaque, which is a blockage of the artery, to rupture leading to a heart attack," said Tu. "That's the theory behind this phenomenon."

Tu said the findings are particularly important for those with heart disease, angina or who've had a heart attack, adding they should try to minimize their exposure to traffic.

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