Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are a leading cause of mortality globally, taking an estimated 17.9 lives annually, according to the World Health Organisation. However, when talking about the factors contributing to the risk of CVDs, the key role played by pollution is often not considered. To address this gap, a new study has highlighted the correlation between air pollution and the increased rate of CVD-related deaths across the world.
In 2022, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) killed 41 million people and CVDs account for most NCD deaths, the researchers wrote in the paper. “Traditional risk factors such as smoking, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol, and unhealthy diet all increase the risk of dying from a CVD,” the new study explained. However, air pollution, both outdoor or ambient and household, is not included in the calculation of risks “despite air pollution being a major contributor to the global burden of disease, with an estimated 12% of all attributable deaths in 2019,” the researchers wrote.
The study, led by the Global Alliance against Chronic Respiratory Diseases, analysed data from 183 countries to highlight differences in mortality rates caused by air pollution between high-income and low-income countries. In 2019, outdoor air pollution caused 16 ischemic heart disease-related deaths per 100,000 people in high-income countries compared with 70 per 100,000 in low-income countries, a press statement revealed.
The findings, published in the journal, Chronic Diseases and Translational Medicine, also showed different ways in which air pollution could affect people’s health. For instance, the study showed that ischemic heart disease-related deaths due to air pollution were higher than stroke-related deaths caused by air pollution.
Moreover, in 2019, the rate of ischemic heart disease-related deaths associated with outdoor air pollution was significantly higher in low-income countries, with 70 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 16 per 100,000 in high-income countries. These differences show the unequal burden of air pollution.
Further shedding light on disparities, the findings showed that in low-income countries, mortality from stroke attributed to household air pollution, caused by the use of polluting fuels and stoves, is more than twice the stroke mortality linked to ambient air pollution.
The researchers suggested air pollution control and improving healthcare quality is important for health system strengthening. Moreover, deaths are avoidable if air pollution is reduced to levels that would not increase the risk of developing CVD. This can be achieved through better housing, spending less time outdoors when the concentration of pollutants is high, and using filters in the household.
"Effective air pollution control along with lifestyle modifications and disease management should be essential components of cardiovascular disease preventive strategies," co-author Nikolai Khaltaev said in the statement.