Climate Change is Threating our Global Cardiovascular Health: A Call to Arms

The following article was written by Dr. Kahtan Fadah as a CardioNerds Conference Scholar for The American Society for Preventive Cardiology (ASPC) 2022 Congress on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention.

It is estimated that 62% of pollution-related mortality is due to cardiovascular disease (CVD) (1). Sadly, CVD is even higher in minority populations or those of low socioeconomic origins, as reported in several studies (2). Currently, the worldwide healthcare community is contributing to approximately 4.4% of Global Green House Gases (GHG), according to the UN Intergovernmental Report “Climate Change 2021”. This contribution is even higher in the United States at 8.5%. Due to this imminent danger, Dr. Martha Gulati, the President of ASPC and Professor of Medicine, Director of CVD Prevention, and Associate Director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars Sinai Heart Institute called us all to arms at the 2022 Congress on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: “Whenever there has been a global crisis, people in medicine have stood up and try to get the resources to address it. There is no greater example recently than COVID-19 pandemic, but climate change is a here now problem and it is affecting global health at scale we are underestimating. …For a preventive cardiologist I feel we can be silent no more. We need to be addressing the climate”.

Unfortunately, a few days before our arrival to ASPC 2022 in Louisville, Kentucky, the state was flooded with heavy rainfall that tragically ended the lives of 37 individuals; this number is expected to grow. This year, the USA has witnessed extreme heat while the rest of the world is witnessing unpredictable disasters from heavy rains, floods, and wildfires to dust storms. The rapid escalation of these natural disasters in recent times mandates our attention to the root cause as time for meaningful change may be running out. In the words of former US President Barak Obama: “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”

Climate change not only increases global temperatures thereby disrupting the thermal physiological homeostasis, but it also ignites air pollution with fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and destroys the healthcare infrastructure. Recently, CVD death has been associated with PM2.5 (2). On an individual level, these changes damage the cardiovascular system via though multiple pathways including inflammation, hypercoagulability, and electrolyte imbalances. The population-level results on overall health may be catastrophic.

We need to halt the progress of these disastrous events. Dr. Gulati noted that the Preventive Cardiology Community is committed to continue its effort to reduce carbon emissions through contributing to a healthy, and sustainable food system, advocating for 100% clean energy and improving the health system effectiveness. Dr. Gulati

In essence, climate change is disrupting the delicate homeostasis which fuels our little blue planet. The growing impact on both extreme weather and cardiovascular health are evident. Without deliberate and concerted interventions, the outlook appears grim. Echoing the sentiments at ASPC 2022, it is our duty as healthcare workers to be active members in addressing climate change. The time to act is now.

Reference:

  1. Rajagopalan S, Landrigan PJ. Pollution and the Heart. N Engl J Med. 2021 Nov 11;385(20):1881-1892. doi: 10.1056/NEJMra2030281. PMID: 34758254.
  2. Bevan GH, Freedman DA, Lee EK, Rajagopalan S, Al-Kindi SG. Association between ambient air pollution and county-level cardiovascular mortality in the United States by social deprivation index. Am Heart J. 2021 May;235:125-131. doi: 10.1016/j.ahj.2021.02.005. Epub 2021 Feb 13. PMID: 33592167.