Air pollution: Particularly offensive to the heart

Tiny particles from traffic and industry, along with other pollutants, can trigger heart attacks and spur the development of heart disease.

Air pollution isn't just a problem for the lungs. It turns out to be just as bad — if not worse — for the heart and circulatory system. Pollutants in the air can trigger heart attacks, strain already troubled hearts, and even pave the way for cholesterol to clog arteries.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, the very direct type of air pollution known as cigarette smoking has both immediate and long-term effects on the hearts and blood vessels of smokers and the people who live and work with them. But just as it took several decades to make the connection between heart disease and smoking, it has taken a while to forge a solid link with air pollution. Although more work needs to be done, the evidence is strong enough to prompt the American Heart Association to call for stronger air quality standards as one route to reducing heart disease.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »