Air Pollution Particulate Increases Heart, Lung Risk in Elderly

A new analysis suggests that long-term exposure to air pollution poses a significant risk to the heart and lung heath of the elderly in the United States. The analysis, published in Circulation, included data on more than 63 million Medicare enrollees from 2000 to 2016. The authors examined fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone, and compared them with four cardiovascular and respiratory outcomes (myocardial infarction, ischemic stroke, atrial fibrillation/flutter, and pneumonia) among the Medicare enrollees. They then used sophisticated statistical analyses adjusted for confounding and with inverse probability weighting. Long-term exposure to air pollution was linked with an increased risk for all outcomes, with the highest effect seen for stroke (a 0.0091% increase in risk for each cubic microgram of annual particulate level increase). Nitrogen dioxide was associated with an increased risk of stroke admission (0.00059% increase per parts per billion) and atrial fibrillation (0.00129% increase per parts per billion). Tropospheric ozone was associated with an increased risk for admission with pneumonia (0.00143% increase per parts per billion). The researchers also reported that these associations for increased risk persisted even at low concentrations of the pollutants. “When we restricted our analyses to individuals who were only exposed to lower concentrations of air pollution, we still found increased risk of hospital admissions with all of the studied outcomes, even at concentration levels below current national standards,” added Mahdieh Danesh Yazdi, PharmD, MPH, PhD, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a news release. “More than half of the study population is exposed to low levels of these pollutants, according to U.S. benchmarks, therefore, the long-term health impact of these pollutants should be a serious concern for all, including policymakers, clinicians and patients.”