Diesel Fuel Linked to Heart Attack

Chemical particles in diesel exhaust pose cardiac health risk

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Compared to any number of dangerous situations someone can find themselves in, driving a car fueled by diesel hardly seems risky. But exhaust fumes may be deceptively nipping at heart health.

Tiny, nearly invisible chemical particles in diesel exhaust fumes are harmful to blood vessels and could increase the risk of blood clots, possibly leading to a heart attack or stroke.

"Avoid highly polluted cities if you have heart disease."

University of Edinburgh researchers studied the reaction to diesel exhaust fumes by healthy individuals. They were exposed at a level similar to what might be found in a heavily polluted city. Specifically, scientists watched participant's reactions to gases in the fumes, including carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.

Dr. Mark Miller, of the Centre for Cardiovascular Science, said the team was able to show that tiny particles, not actual gases, damage blood vessels and could affect blood pressure. That is because the particles make highly reactive molecules that damage blood vessels, potentially leading to cardiovascular disease.

Particle traps can be installed in vehicles to filter minuscule particles from the exhaust system. Some of these traps have already been added to U.S. public transportation vehicles.

Researchers also suggest that those with heart disease should skip going outside for extended periods of time in areas with high traffic pollution.

The research, funded by the British Heart Association, is significant because consumers worldwide have been increasingly purchasing fuel-efficient diesel engine cars as the price of fuel has skyrocketed. A shortage of hybrid cars also has contributed. Research firm Baum & Associates, an automotive market research company, noted that there has been a 34 percent increase in U.S. consumers purchasing diesel cars from a year ago.

Though the U.S. market share of those driving diesel cars remains small at about 3.1 percent, it is expected to grow to 7.4 percent within the next six years. Hoping to capitalize on that growth, German car manufacturer, Volkswagen, opened a Tennessee plant in May. About 25 percent of cars being manufactured at the plant have diesel engines.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 15, 2011
Last Updated:
July 20, 2011