Harmful to the heart, suspended particles (PM10 and PM2.5), released by diesel engines, exceed what is healthy in all autonomous communities, according to the Spanish Society of Cardiology
The smallest pollutant particles are the ones that do the most damage, such as PM2.5, which are less than 2.5 microns in diameter and are almost dissolved in the air. In all the autonomous communities of Spain, its proportion exceeds the limits recommended by the World Health Organization, cardiologists warn. “We have scientific evidence that shows that air pollution causes coronary plaques,” says Jordi Baths, cardiologist at the Hospital Universitari Vall d’Hebron (Barcelona).
“Pollution is related to schematic heart disease, also to congenital heart disease and transplant recipients have a worse prognosis,” continues Baths, who participated in the forum ‘Impact of the environment on our cardiovascular health: Importance of environmental pollutants’, organized by the Spanish Society of Cardiology (SEC) and the Spanish Heart Foundation (FEC). “We have also seen that in the weeks with the greatest pollution, more patients with cardiovascular diseases are admitted. Pollution causes inflammation and is a piece of the puzzle.”
Air pollution may be related to 25% of all deaths from ischemic heart disease and 24% of deaths from strokes, according to data provided by the SEC-FEC Verde research group. “Even minimal concentrations of pollutants in the environment are already associated with greater cardiovascular morbidity and mortality,” indicates Baths, who warns: “Although in Spain there has been some improvement in air quality in the last decade, we are still far from reaching the recommendations of The OMS”.
Thus, all the autonomous communities exceed the limit of polluting particles, which is up to 5 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5 (whose biggest emitter is diesel engines). These are followed in dimension by those of 10 microns in diameter, known as PM10, which in the autonomies -except in Extremadura, Navarra and Aragón- also exceed the threshold of 15 micrograms per m3 set by the WHO.
To prevent the effects of pollution, cardiologists recommend following “personal and population strategies” related to the mobilization and use of domestic energy, such as the combustion of boilers and kitchens. “Nature must be prescribed,” maintains Juan Antonio Ortega, a doctor at the Environmental Health Unit of the Virgen de la Arrixaca Hospital (Murcia).
“Those patients who have high cardiovascular risks should avoid contaminated areas, and those who live there should be screened,” recommends Baths. “We are opening our eyes to a problem that has been around for a long time. In the 20th century we began to document it, and we want to address it now with ‘environmental cardiology’, which deals with the relationships between cardiovascular diseases and air pollution.
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