Face mask may reduce heart attack in polluted air

A research published on 13-3-2009 in the Particle and Fibre Toxicology indicates that wearing a respirator may reduce the risk of heart attack.

“This simple intervention has the potential to protect susceptible individuals and prevent cardiovascular events in cities with high concentrations of ambient air pollution.” stated in the website.

The research was led by Dr. Jeremy Lingguish of the Centre for Cardiovascular Sciences, Edinburgh University. The team consist of experts from Centre for Environmental Health (The Netherlands), Institute of Occupational Medicine (UK) and Fuwai Hospital in Beijing,  China. 

The randomised controlled study involves 15 volunteer walked on a predefined city route in Baijing. The subject exposed to ambient air pollution and exercise was assessed continuously using portable real-time monitors and global positional system tracking respectively. Cardiovascular effects were assessed by continuous 12-lead electrocardiographic and ambulatory blood pressure monitoring.

Walking test route in Beijing

Walking test route in Beijing

The mask-wearing group result might have been affected due to poor mask-to-face fit. Despite this, the mask wearing group demonstrated least affected by exposure to the air pollution.

Exposure to fine particulate air pollution is known to associated with increased cardiovascular morbidity, but it is not clear how this happen.

In another experiment, Magnus Lundbäck  et al developed a simple non-invasive method of assessing arterial stiffness and apply the method to demonstrate exposure to unnoticable among of diesel exhasut can indeed increase arterial stiffness. This is possibly the best way to explain the link between air pollution and heart attack.

The team from Sweden and UK discovered that men exposed to small, unnoticable concentration of diesel exhaust (350 ug/m3) increased the augmentation pressure by 3 mmHg and augmentation index by 8 %- indicating an increase in arterial stiffness. In a patient with established hypertension or coronary artery disease, small changes in central aortic pressure may be sufficient to trigger an acute cardiovascular event (e.g. heart attack, or stroke)

A point to note is PM concentrations can regularly reach levels of 300 ug/m3 and above in heavy traffic, occupational settings, and in the world’s largest cities.

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