Do Concrete and Smog Create Heart Risks?

City residents more likely to suffer coronary artery calcification from pollution

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

(RxWiki News) Living in a big city may have its benefits when it comes to convenience, but a new study reveals added pollution may not be doing any favors for your heart.

Those who reside in the center of a city are twice as likely to suffer from a build up of plaque in their arteries, which can lead to heart disease, compared to residents of less polluted urban and rural areas.

"See a cardiologist regularly if you have plaque build up in your arteries."

Jess Lambrechtsen, MD, PhD, from the department of cardiology at Svendborg Hospital in Denmark, said the study sought to examine the association between living in the center of a city, possibly with a higher degree of air pollution, and the presence of coronary artery calcification in individuals with no other signs of heart disease.

During the study researchers asked 1,225 Danish men and women between the ages of 50 and 60 years old to fill out questionnaires about medical conditions, prescribed medications, family history of heart disease and smoking status. They also received a clinical exam that included height, weight, blood pressure, blood tests and imaging scans.

Individuals participating in the study were randomly selected from a national Government database of Danish adults. About 20 percent of the participants resided in centers of major Danish cities.

Air pollution data from a national surveillance source indicating that pollution was about three times higher in city centers than urban areas and seven times higher than rural areas was utilized to compare pollution levels.

Researchers found that while none of the participants showed symptoms of heart disease, 43 percent had coronary artery calcification.

They discovered that individuals who resided in city centers were 80 percent more likely to develop coronary artery calcification than those who lived in other areas. Men, older participants, diabetics and smokers also were found to have a higher risk of artery plaque.

High cholesterol also increased the risk by 60 percent, while high blood pressure and a family history of heart disease both raised the odds by 50 percent.

Dr. Lambrechtsen suggested factors such as noise and stress levels could influence plaque development, and it would be fair to assume these would be higher in city centers.

"However, in this study stress levels, as measured by average blood pressure, were actually lower in city center dwellers than people living in urban areas. Heart rates, another predictor of stress, were the same across the groups," said Dr. Lambrechtsen.

"The mechanisms by which air pollution may contribute to (coronary artery calcification) are not well understood. But what is clear from this study is that the links between air pollution and (coronary artery calcification) need further investigation."

The research was published in the May issue of the Journal of Internal Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 26, 2012
Last Updated:
April 27, 2012