Utah researchers say bad air days correlate with greater risk of heart attack

Posted at 9:59 PM, Jan 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-03 23:59:21-05

SALT LAKE CITY – While it’s well-known that air pollution is a public health issue, specifically in terms of lung problems, new research from Intermountain Medical Center indicates a correlation between bad air and a greater risk for heart attacks.

Doctor Brent Muhlestein, co-director of cardiology research at Intermountain Medical Center, said he and his staff investigated impacts to health from bad air beyond what happens to a person’s lungs.

Researchers used records from doctors at Brigham Young University regarding air quality levels, and compared that data with findings from their own research.

“People who have underlying coronary disease to begin with, who at least have some atherosclerosis to begin with, were twice as likely to have a heart attack on a bad air day than they were on a good air day,” Muhlestein said.

Next, they wanted to know if the bad air triggers a certain kind of heart attack. Their most recent published work reports it causes a STEMI (ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction) , the worst type of heart attack a patient can experience.

“They’re the ones that you have to immediately call for 911 and come rushing in,” Muhlestein said of patients suffering from a STEMI. “Take them right to the cath lab and open up a totally occluded artery. Those are the kind that are most affected by the presence of air pollution and bad air.”

Doctors said it happens because on bad air days, you inhale fine particulate pollution that eventually gets into your bloodstream, triggering inflammation.

“I think it’s the inflammatory effect of these particulate air pollutants that trigger the STEMI right on the day that you go out in the bad air,” Muhlestein said.

The research indicates that if you're healthy, you may suffer long-term effects, but you're not about to have a heart attack from going outside in bad air. You are only at-risk if you have an underlying coronary disease.

Severe chest pressure, shortness of breath and cold sweats are some of the warning signs of an attack that doctors say you shouldn't ignore. Those with heart issues are encouraged to stay indoors where there is filtered air during bad air days.