Friday, March 13, 2009

Traffic may trigger heart attacks

I have no problem believing this, esp. in Atlanta. The drivers here are nuts. I've been honked at more than once because I didn't run a red light. And I didn't have to make a screeching stop, just a normal stop.
A factor they didn't seem to be aware of is that factors that damage lung function can damage the heart, because it makes the heart work harder to try to get enough oxygen to the body.

By JoNel Aleccia
Health writer
updated 4:01 p.m. ET, Fri., March. 13, 2009

New research from Germany shows that people who had heart attacks were three times more likely than not to have been sitting in traffic an hour before their symptoms began.

The risk was even higher for women, older men, the unemployed and those with a history of agina, or chest pain, according to Annette Peters, the researcher who led the study of some 1,454 heart attack patients.

And while cars were the primary traffic source for the heart attack patients she studied, risk also tripled for people who used public transportation or rode bicycles.

“Driving or riding in heavy traffic poses an additional risk of eliciting a heart attack in persons already at elevated risk,” said Peters, who heads the research unit at the Institute of Epidemiology of Helmholtz Zentrum M√ľnchen, the German Research Center for Environmental Health.

Exactly why sitting in traffic appears to trigger heart attacks isn’t clear, either from this study or from a previous similar study. There’s a good chance, however, that air pollution may be a key culprit, with a bit of road rage contributing as well.

“One potential factor could be the exhaust and air pollution coming from other cars,” Peters said. “But we can’t exclude the synergy between stress and air pollution that could tip the balance.”

That echoes a growing body of research aimed at determining outside influences on heart attacks, said Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute in Boston, an independent, nonprofit research group.

“It could be air pollution, it could be stress, it could be noise,” he said.

Doctors have long known that anger and stress contribute to long- and short-term heart problems. Stress narrows arteries, boosts blood pressure and even alters the electrical rhythm of the heart.

Air pollution has traditionally been linked to respiratory troubles and lung disease. But scientists have found an increasingly strong association between air pollution and the development of heart disease, including problems that lead to early death.

“Additional evidence has accumulated that short-term and long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with coronary heart disease events,” Peters said. “I consider that the link between air pollution and cardiovascular disease is most likely causal.”

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