Air pollution now major contributor to stroke

Air pollution now major contributor to stroke

Air pollution has become a major contributor to stroke for the first time, with unclean air now blamed for nearly one third of the years of healthy life lost to the condition worldwide.

In an unprecedented survey of global risk factors for stroke, air pollution in the form of fine particulate matter ranked seventh in terms of its impact on healthy lifespan, while household air pollution from burning solid fuels ranked eighth.

Valery Feigin, director of the National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neurosciences at Auckland University of Technology, said that while he expected air pollution to emerge as a threat, the extent of the problem had taken researchers by surprise.

“We did not expect the effect would be of this magnitude, or increasing so much over the last two decades,” he said. “Our study is the first to demonstrate a large and increasingly hazardous effect of air pollution on stroke burden worldwide.”

The result is particularly striking because the analysis is likely to have underestimated the effects of air pollution on stroke, as the impact of burning fossil fuels was not fully accounted for. Emissions from fossil fuels are more harmful to the cardiovascular system than the fine particulate matter the team analysed, Feigin said.

Scientists in the field said the “alarming” finding, published in the journal Lancet Neurology, showed that harm caused by air pollution to the lungs, heart and brain had been underestimated.

About 15 million people a year suffer a stroke worldwide. Nearly six million die, and five million are left with permanent disabilities, such as loss of sight and speech, paralysis and confusion.

Feigin analysed a haul of medical data from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013 to build a picture of how different risk factors for stroke left people disabled and cut their lives short in 188 countries between 1990 and 2013. The study highlighted the most important contributors to stroke worldwide as high blood pressure, a diet low in fruit, obesity, a high salt diet, smoking, and not eating enough vegetables. (…)

From 1990 to 2013, the global harm caused by stroke due to poor diet, smoking and almost every other risk factor rose, with only secondhand smoke and household pollution falling. Environmental air pollution came from vehicles, power plants, industry and fossil fuels, with traditional burning of biomass a major source in developing countries.

Over the long term, air pollution is thought to increase the risk of stroke by hardening arteries in the brain, making blood thicker and raising blood pressure, so boosting the risk of clots in the brain. But it may have acute effects too, such as rupturing the plaques that build up in arteries, which can then go on to cause blockages.

Source: The Guardian

Date: June 2016

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