Arrhythmias has been previously linked to heart disease and sudden cardiac death.
Exposure to high levels of air pollution raises the risk of cardiac arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeat, research has found.
The study, which was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday, found a significant increase in the risk of arrhythmias in the first few hours after an increase in air pollution levels s based on nearly 200,000 hospital admissions in China.
“We found that acute exposure to ambient air pollution was associated with increased risk of symptomatic arrhythmia,” said Dr. Renjie Chen of Fudan University in Shanghai and co-author of the study.
“The risks occurred during the first several hours after exposure and could persist for 24 hours,” he added.
Another study last year reported a link between fine particulate air pollution and cardiac arrhythmias in otherwise healthy teenagers, and confirmed that this translates to a meaningful health risk.
Despite the fact that previous studies linking short-term air pollution exposure to arrhythmia have been inconsistent, this new report adds to evidence that air pollution can harm the cardiovascular system and potentially contribute to an irregular heartbeat, the authors warned.
The study included 190,115 patients admitted to hospitals in 322 Chinese cities, who were suffering from sudden onset arrythmia, including atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, premature beats and supraventricular tachycardia.
China’s air pollution levels far exceed the World Health Organization’s air quality standards.
The researchers examined the concentrations of six air pollutants from monitoring stations closest to the reporting hospitals. Of these, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) had the strongest association with all types of arrhythmia — the more NO2 people were exposed to, the stronger the association.
The exact impact of air pollution is not clear, but there is some evidence that it causes oxidative stress and inflammation, which can affect the heart’s electrical activity.
“Although the exact mechanisms are not yet fully understood, the association between air pollution and acute onset of arrhythmia that we observed is biologically plausible,” the authors wrote.
The associated risk was prevalent among men, which the researchers suspect may be due to a greater prevalence of risk factors for arrhythmia like smoking and alcohol consumption and more exposure through outdoor activities, including work.
The associations were also greatest during colder seasons, which is likely because cooler temperatures may intensify air pollution’s impact on the cardiovascular system.
A recent study discovered that on days with high levels of pollution in England, hundreds of individuals are taken to hospitals for emergency care after experiencing heart attacks, strokes, and asthma attacks.
The findings of this new study highlight the need to protect at-risk people during heavy air pollution and to reduce overall exposure, the authors said.