Exhausting the heart: the role of air pollution in cardiovascular disease


Take Home Messages
  • Only 1% of the global population breathe air within recommended range for air pollution levels.
  • A significant body of evidence shows irrefutable evidence that air pollution increases risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular death and may be as bad for you as smoking.
  • Increased risk of acute effects such as myocardial infarction and long term all-cause cardiovascular mortality are just two examples of fumes on the heart.
  • Individual impacts can help but global change in behavior is required to reduce air pollution levels, and as a result the toxic burden on our hearts.

The global impact of air pollution is a familiar and ever-present issue affecting modern life. The morbidity and mortality links with air pollution are well evidenced to numerous health conditions including COPD, neurodegenerative diseases, kidney disease and congenital defects to name but a few (1). Over the last two decades there has been a surge in research assessing toxic effects of air pollution on heart disease and associated deaths. The gravity of the problem is that air pollution affects everyone, with the World Health Organisation reporting in 2022 that only 1% of the global population are currently living in conditions which are under the recommended targets for air pollution exposure (2). The Global Exposure Mortality Model performed by Burnett & colleagues demonstrated that exposure to outdoor air pollution could be as dangerous as cigarette smoking in relation to deaths worldwide (3–5).