Dr. Brajmohan Singh, Consultant – Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery, HCG Hospital, Bhavnagar
Air pollution refers to the pollutants in the air that can damage one’s health when breathed in. These could be gases or small particles known as suspended particulate matter (SPM). The most common harmful air pollutants include gases like nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide, and particles like soot and dust. Air pollution can be caused by diesel and petrol vehicles, fumes and factories and power plants, farming – from fertilisers and animal manure, burning firewood, candles or incense indoors, smoking cigarettes, and more. Air pollution can also come from natural sources like soil, pollen, volcanoes and sandstorms.
Heart diseases refer to a wide variety of disorders affecting the heart – the most vital organ of the body circulating oxygenated blood to all other body parts to make them function adequately. Various kinds of heart diseases include blood vessel diseases like coronary artery disease, irregular heartbeats or arrhythmias, heart problems at birth like congenital heart defects, disease of the heart muscle and heart valve disease.
Air pollution is found to increase the risk of heart-related disorders and adversely affect heart health. Ultrafine Particle (UFP), a particulate matter of less than 100 nanometers in diameter is observed to cause serious heart damage.
Here’s how air pollutants harm heart health
Air pollutants can have harmful consequences on heart health in various ways. It can:
Make blood vessels narrower and harder and damage them. As a result, it can become more difficult for the blood to flow freely. The blood may also be likely to clot. It also enhances blood pressure as the heart starts pumping blood faster to move the blood that cannot flow properly. It can also increase the strain on your heart muscle by making it work harder than it should.
Air pollutants can affect the heart’s electrical system and mess up the heartbeat. It can potentially cause arrhythmias or abnormal and uncontrolled heartbeat in which the heart starts beating either too fast or too slow.
It can potentially bring about certain changes to the structure of the heart. These structural changes are similar to what is found in the early stages of heart failure, thereby amping up the risk of cardiac arrest.
Air pollution is particularly dangerous for people with existing cardiovascular conditions as the damage caused by the pollutants can significantly increase the risk of a heart attack and stroke.
Reducing the amount of air pollution one breathes in
These simple ways can help in reducing air pollution intake via breathing.
● Instead of driving a vehicle, one must walk or cycle or use public transport when one can. This is because air quality is poorer in vehicles and excessive use of private vehicles enhances the level of pollutants in the air.
● One must choose routes that are away from busy roads where the air quality could be low due to vehicular air pollution. Cycle paths are great alternatives.
● Traffic congestion must be avoided as much as possible and one must find ways to travel at other times and not during rush hour that experiences maximum pollution.
● Also, eating a balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables can give protection against the negative impacts of air pollution.
Besides, one must always try ways to keep one’s heart healthy to prevent further complications when exposed to air pollution. Here are some tips that can amp up heart health and make it stronger to negate the impacts of air pollutants.
● One must eat healthy food.
● One must lead an active life and perform daily exercises.
● One must maintain a healthy body weight and avoid being overweight. One must quit smoking and stay away from passive smoking.
● One must control cholesterol and blood pressure
● One must consume alcohol in moderation
● One must manage stress and keep it under control.
If one observes chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath or light-headed, consult a doctor immediately.