Air pollution impairs the function of blood vessels in the lungs, a study in more than 16,000 patients has found. Promoting a safer environment appears to be as important as controlling conventional risk factors, like high cholesterol, in reducing cardiovascular disease.
“This is the first human study to report an influence of air pollution on pulmonary vascular function,” said Jean-Francois Argacha, a cardiologist at the University Hospital in Belgium. “This is a major public health issue for people living in polluted urban areas where exercise could damage the lungs and potentially lead to decompensated heart failure,” said Argacha.
Air pollution consists of particles and gases. The first vascular bed in contact with air pollutants is the pulmonary circulation yet few studies have investigated the impact. “Such studies are important because if air pollution causes narrowing of the blood vessels in the lungs, this combined with the systemic effects of pollution could cause decompensated heart failure,” said Argacha.
The current study examined the effect of air pollution on pulmonary haemodynamics in a population and in individuals. The population study assessed whether common levels of outdoor air pollution influence the echocardiography parameters conventionally used to evaluate the pulmonary circulation and right ventricular function.
Between 2009 and 2013, transthoracic echocardiography including an evaluation of pulmonary pressure was conducted in 16 295 individuals and correlated with average air pollution in Brussels on the same day and in the last five and ten days. Researchers examined whether any patient subgroups were more susceptible to the effects of air pollution.
The individual study examined the effect of air pollution on pulmonary circulation in ten healthy male volunteers exposed to pollutants in a chamber with standardised conditions. The volunteers were exposed to ambient air or dilute diesel exhaust with a PM2.5 (particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diametre) concentration of 300 microgrammes per cubic metre for two hours.
The effects on pulmonary vascular resistance were assessed with echocardiography at rest and during a cardiac stress test in which the drug dobutamine is given to simulate heart function during exercise. The population study showed a negative effect of PM10 (particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diametre), PM2.5 and ozone on pulmonary circulation on the same day and over five and ten days.
Specifically, increases in these pollutants were associated with reduced pulmonary acceleration time and increased pulmonary acceleration slope. Increases in PM10 and PM2.5 over ten days were associated with worse right ventricle function. The negative impact of PM10 on pulmonary circulation was more pronounced in patients with obstructive sleep apnoea.