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Traffic Exposure Linked to Changes in Heart Structure, Function

Update Date: Mar 07, 2014 06:18 PM EST
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Exposure to traffic pollution may alter heart structure and function, according to a new study.

New research links exposure to high levels of traffic-related air pollution to changes in the right ventricle of the heart that may increase the risk of heart disease. Researchers said the findings support previous studies that show that air pollution exposure increases the risk of heart disease.

"Although the link between traffic-related air pollution and left ventricular hypertrophy, heart failure, and cardiovascular death is established, the effects of traffic-related air pollution on the right ventricle have not been well studied," lead author Peter Leary, MD, MS, of the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, said in a news release. "Using exposure to nitrogen dioxide as a surrogate for exposure to traffic-related air pollution, we were able to demonstrate for the first time that higher levels of exposure were associated with greater right ventricular mass and larger right ventricular end-diastolic volume. Greater right ventricular mass is also associated with increased risk for heart failure and cardiovascular death."

The latest study involved 3,896 participants who were free of cardiovascular disease in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and who underwent cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Researchers estimated exposure to outdoor oxides of nitrogen at the homes of participants over the year before the MRI scan.

The findings linked increased exposure to nitrogen dioxide to an approximately 1.0 g (5 percent) increase in right ventricular mass and a 4.1 mL (3 percent) increase in right ventricular end-diastolic volume.

Researchers said the findings held true even after researchers accounted for differences among participants in cardiovascular risk factors, left ventricular mass and volume, markers of inflammation, lung disease and socioeconomic status.

"The morphologic changes in the right ventricle of the heart that we found with increased exposure to nitrogen dioxide add to the body of evidence supporting a connection between traffic-related air pollution and cardiovascular disease," concluded Leary. "The many adverse effects of air pollution on human health support continued efforts to reduce this burden."

The findings are published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine

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