A study, led by Professor Steffen Petersen from Queen Mary University of London has shown that people exposed to air pollution levels well within UK guidelines have changes in the structure of the heart, similar to those seen in the early stages of heart failure. The study part-funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and published in the journal Circulation.
It looked at data from around 4,000 participants in the UK Biobank study, where healthy volunteers provided a range of personal information, including their lifestyles, health record and details on where they have lived. Participants also had blood tests and health scans, and heart MRI was used to measure the size, weight and function of the participants’ hearts at fixed times.
There was a clear association between those who lived near loud, busy roads, and were exposed to NO2 or PM2.5 and the development of larger right and left pumping ventricles in the heart. Similar heart remodelling is seen in the early stages of heart failure.
For every 1 extra µg per cubic metre of PM2.5 and for every 10 extra µg per cubic metre of NO2, the heart enlarges by approximately 1 per cent.
In the study, average annual exposures to PM2.5 were well within UK guidelines (25µg per cubic metre). The WHO guidelines are 10µg per cubic metre and for India it is 60 25µg per cubic metre.
The UK aim is halving the number of people in the UK living in areas where PM2.5 levels exceed WHO guidelines (10µg per cubic metre) by 2025.
Indian standards are 60 for PM 2.5 and we face up to 1000 on multiple times in a year. We are having an epidemic of atrial fibrillation and diastolic dysfunction in the country, which I am sure is linked to pollution.
Air pollution is a modifiable risk factor. How can we expect people to move home to avoid air pollution. The Indian Government must act now to make all areas safe and protect the population from these harms.
(By Dr KK Aggarwal, Padma Shri awardee and President of Heart care foundation of India. Views expressed are personal)