- University study links traffic pollutants to an increase in the heart's mass
- The year-long University of Washington study involved 3896 participants
- Were exposed to nitrogen dioxide levels similar to those found in traffic
- Participants underwent an MRI scan before and after the study
- Results revealed an average five per cent increase in mass and three per cent increase in volume of the heart's right ventrical
- The changes are directly linked to heart failure and cardiac arrest
March 13, 2014
Traffic-related air pollution - the kind millions of drivers are exposed to during their twice-daily rush-hour commute - could trigger a potentially deadly change in the size of the heart, according to new major university study.
The University of Washington Medical Center study found prolonged exposure to car pollutants causes the heart's right ventricle to increase in both mass and volume, which is directly linked to cardiovascular disease, heart failure and cardiac arrest.
Going nowhere: A study has linked rush-hour traffic jams with serious heart disease
The study's 3896 participants were exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide - a gas emitted from the burning of fuel - similar to those found in heavy traffic. The participants underwent an MRI scan before and after the 12-month study.
Results revealed an average five per cent increase in mass and three per cent increase in volume of the heart's right ventrical, even after accounting for variable factors like pre-existing conditions, diet or socioeconomic status.
The study's author, Dr. Peter Leary, said the changes were enough to drastically increase the risk of heart disease and heart failure.
'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,' he said.
'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.'
Pollutants can cause the heart's right ventricle to grow, increasing the risk of heart disease or cardiac arrest
While researchers can't categorically confirm that exposure to car pollutants caused the heart's mass to increase, Dr Leary said his study added more evidence to the connection between traffic jams and heart disease.
'The 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,' he said.
'The many adverse effects of air pollution on human health support continued efforts to reduce this burden.'