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Dec 09, 2015

Women with Diabetes Especially Vulnerable to Heart Risks from Air Pollution

Fine particulate matter is unhealthy for all but especially for women with diabetes.

Although air pollution increases risk for heart disease in the general population, women with diabetes are especially vulnerable to its negative health effects, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, this study identified populations most vulnerable to increased heart risks from air pollution. A wealth of evidence has linked fine particulate matter—tiny particles in the air that can go deep into the lungs—to increased risk for heart disease. In fact, this dangerous form of air pollution was responsible for an estimated 1.5 million heart-related deaths in 2010 and is now considered a major risk factor for heart disease. But while air pollution is dangerous for all individuals, certain populations may be more sensitive to the effects of air pollution than others.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study—one of the largest and longest running investigations of factors related to women’s health. More than 114,500 women were included in the recent analysis, all of whom completed surveys about their health and were followed for key outcomes like heart disease and death.

After analysis, researchers found that air pollution increased risk for heart disease most in women with diabetes. The more fine particulate matter women with diabetes were exposed to, the greater their risk for heart disease.

Researchers also found that women who were obese, over 70 years old and living in the Northeast and South were at greater cardiovascular risk, although these findings were not considered statistically significant.

Findings add to a growing body of evidence around the negative health impact of air pollution. Although long-term exposure to air pollution increases risk for heart disease, it’s likely that populations with chronic diseases or weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable.

Therefore, experts emphasize the importance of limiting exposure to air pollution when possible. For example, individuals living in cities or areas with heavy traffic should avoid going outside when air quality is especially poor. It’s also important that adults, especially those with existing medical conditions like diabetes, take extra care to control their risk factors for heart disease. Together, these steps can help minimize the negative effects of air pollution and reduce risk for heart disease.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is fine particulate matter?
  • Fine particulate matter refers to particles found in the air that are so small they can be inhaled deep into the lungs. Exposure to high levels of fine particulate matter can have an adverse effect on health and is now considered a risk factor for heart disease.
  • How can I reduce my exposure to air pollutants?

  • Although it is impossible to completely avoid exposure to any air pollutants, you can check local air quality conditions on the news or weather and try to go outside when air quality conditions are best (often early morning or evening and in cooler temperatures). Also, avoid being outside around traffic-congested streets where pollution can be heavy.

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