Study links heat waves and pollution to heart attack risk

Jul 28, 2023, 2:00 PM

FILE - Emissions from a coal-fired power plant are silhouetted against the setting sun in Kansas Ci...

FILE - Emissions from a coal-fired power plant are silhouetted against the setting sun in Kansas City, Mo., Feb. 1, 2021. A federal appeals court has put Environmental Protection Agency regulations on hold Friday, May 26, 2023, aimed at reducing air pollution in Missouri, drawing criticism from environmentalists but praise from the state's attorney general who called the proposal “unconstitutional overreach.” (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — Circulation, a health journal for the American Heart Association, recently published a study that found that exposure to both extreme temperatures and increased particulate pollution levels is highly associated with an increased risk of heart attacks. 

Study specifications

A press release from the American Heart Association said that researchers looked at data from 202,000 heart attacks in the Jiangsu province of China between 2015-2020.

Researchers tracked heat waves to cold fronts and looked at how extreme and how long temperatures lasted. 

The researchers also looked at days when a fatal heart attack happened and tracked them against control days.

Lastly, researchers tracked particle pollution from fine particulates, known as PM 2.5, to see which days had “high” levels. A high-level day is considered an average of PM 2.5 above 37.5 micrograms per cubic meter.

Higher levels of heart attacks

The study found that the risk of a fatal heart attack compared with control days:

  • Is twice as high during 4-day heat waves with high particulate pollution levels.
  • Is 18% higher during 2-day heat waves between 82.6 to 97.9 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Is 74% higher during 4-day heat waves between 94.8 to 109.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Is generally higher among women and people 80 years or older

Utah’s levels of pollution

Here in Utah, the main pollution concern isn’t PM 2.5, it’s ozone pollution.

According to Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, “We usually see very low levels of particulate matter unless there is visible smoke in the atmosphere.”

PM 2.5 particles mainly originate from smoke, including wildfires and fireworks.

According to the DAQ website, current PM 2.5 levels are well below the 37.5 micrograms per cubic meter observed in the study.

However, Bird explains that high ozone pollution, combined with high temperatures, can also cause severe medical issues.

“The combination of the high ozone values, the wildfire smoke, and the heat certainly would be a concern, and an increased concern as those concentrations get higher.”

How to stay safe

There are many ways to reduce the risk of experiencing a heat or pollution-related heart attack.

Doctors involved in the study said some strategies include following local weather forecasts, proper hydration, using air purifiers and staying inside during the hottest times of the day.

Locally, Bird said reducing pollution is always the goal and we should “do what we can to reduce our contribution.”

This includes optimizing emissions, carpooling, reducing wildfires, and switching to electric or other eco-friendly lawn tools.

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Study links heat waves and pollution to heart attack risk