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Traffic may Trigger Heart Attacks

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: traffic, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) If you spend time stuck in traffic as you commute to your job, you might want to consider working closer to home or finding an easier route to get to the office. The reason? It could be a way to lower your risk of a heart attack. That's because people who have had heart attacks are likely to have been in traffic right before their symptoms started, according to new research just reported at the American Heart Association's 49th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention.

Scientists at the Institute of Epidemiology, Helmholtz Zentrum Muchen, in Germany, studied patients who had suffered heart attacks and found they were more than three times as likely to have been in traffic within an hour of the onset of their symptoms than people who didn't have heart attacks (technically known as myocardial infarctions, or MIs). As you'd expect, driving a car was the primary source of traffic exposure, but even taking a bus or subway or riding a bike in traffic upped the risk of MI. Bottom line: time spent in traffic, no matter what the mode of transportation, produced a 3.2 times higher risk than time spent not caught in traffic.

The researchers used a standardized survey of 1,454 MI patients with an average age of 60 to collect data on what might have triggered the research subjects' heart attacks in the four days leading up to the beginning of MI symptoms. All the patients had a known date and time of their heart attack and all had lived at least 24 hours after their cardiac event. The research participants were asked about their activities the day of their MIs, including where they went, how much time they spent in traffic and what sort of transportation they used. Overall, the results showed 8 percent of the heart attacks could be attributed to traffic.

Those most vulnerable to the heart attack/traffic link were women, older males, the unemployed, and people with a history of angina. Even after being out of traffic for six hours, there was a continued small but statistically significant increase in the risk of having an MI. In a statement to the media, the researchers said they were surprised that women seemed to be at a higher risk of having a heart attack after traffic exposure. "Their risk is more than five times higher. We're not sure what the physiological mechanism is behind this; however, it might also be due to the smaller number of women as we only interviewed 325 women in five years," said Annette Peters, Ph.D., lead author of the study.

Although the research wasn't designed to find the exact reasons why being in traffic could increase the risk of heart attack, the scientists cited automobile exhaust and air pollution coming from other cars as a possible explanation. "But we can't exclude the synergy between stress and air pollution that could tip the balance," Dr. Peters said in the press statement. "Measures to improve air quality within metropolitan areas and reduction of emissions from vehicles are likely to reduce risk for heart attacks."

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About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.
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