Study reveals how air pollution may spread the risk of cardiovascular disease

The dangerous ‘triple threat’ of air pollution, Covid-19 and cardiovascular disease should be taken seriously, warn major health authorities.

As per the New research led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) reveals that fine particulate matter has a detrimental impact on cardiovascular health by activating the production of inflammatory cells in the bone marrow, ultimately leading to inflammation of the arteries. The findings are published in the European Heart Journal. The researchers looked at 503 patients without cardiovascular disease or cancer who had undergone imaging tests at MGH for several medical cause.

Tiny particles of air pollution – called fine particulate matter – can have a range of effects on health, and exposure to high levels is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The scientists estimated participants’ annual average fine particulate matter levels using data obtained from the U.S. Environment Protection Agency’s air quality monitors located closest to each participant’s residential address.

Key Takeaways

  • A new study has found a link between high levels of air pollution at an individual’s home address and an elevated risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • Air pollution exposure appears to heighten the production of inflammatory cells in the bone marrow, triggering inflammation of the arteries.

Over a median follow-up of 4.1 years, 40 individuals experienced major cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, with the highest risk seen in participants with higher levels of fine particulate matter at their home address. Their risk was elevated even after accounting for cardiovascular risk factors, socioeconomic factors, and other key confounders, the study remarked.

Imaging tests assessing the state of internal organs and tissues showed that these participants also had higher bone marrow activity, indicating a heightened production of inflammatory cells (a process called leukopoiesis), and elevated inflammation of the arteries. Additional analyses revealed that leukopoiesis in response to air pollution exposure is a trigger that causes arterial inflammation, Massachusetts General Hospital attributed.

Meanwhile, Shady Abohashem, MD, a cardiovascular imaging fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), explains that the pathway linking air pollution exposure to cardiovascular events through higher bone marrow activity and arterial inflammation accounted for 29% of the relationship between air pollution and cardiovascular disease events. “These findings implicate air pollution exposure as an underrecognized risk factor for cardiovascular disease and suggest therapeutic targets beyond pollution mitigation to lessen the cardiovascular impact of air pollution exposure”.

Michael Osborne, MD, a cardiologist at MGH, added that therapies targeting increased inflammation following exposure to fine particulate matter may benefit patients who cannot avoid air pollution. “Significantly, most of the population studied had air pollution exposures well below the unhealthy thresholds established by the World Health Organization (WHO), suggesting that no level of air pollution can truly be considered safe,” he asserted. Notably, This study of work was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Despite the same, the World Heart Federation (WHF), American College of Cardiology (ACC), American Heart Association (AHA) and European Society of Cardiology (ESC) have released a joint statement urging the medical community and health authorities to mitigate the impact of air pollution on people’s health. Although, There is a clear link between air pollution and various health conditions, with children particularly susceptible to harm. According to the WHO, pollution causes one-third of all deaths from stroke, lung cancer, and heart disease.


  1. Shady Abohashem, Michael T Osborne, Tawseef Dar, Nicki Naddaf, Taimur Abbasi, Ahmed Ghoneem, Azar Radfar, Tomas Patrich, Blake Oberfeld, Brian Tung, Zahi A Fayad, Sanjay Rajagopalan, Ahmed Tawakol. A leucopoietic-arterial axis underlying the link between ambient air pollution and cardiovascular disease in humans. European Heart Journal, 2021 DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehaa982

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