91% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality exceeds WHO guidelines. With this in mind, it will come as no surprise to you that ambient (outdoor) air pollution is a major cause of death and disease globally.
When thinking of how air quality may affect your body, you’ll instantly think about your lungs.
But what about your heart?
Can bad air quality be blamed for any of the 100,000 Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) deaths in the UK every year?
In this article, we’ll find out whether air pollution really does trigger SCA and show you the one sure-fire way to ensure that, regardless of air pollution levels in your local area, you and your family are protected from Sudden Cardiac Death.
Can Bad Air Quality Cause Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)?
Climate stories have been dominating worldwide headlines in recent months. It seems that now more than ever, we are becoming increasingly aware of the effect of pollution on both our environment and on our health.
And for good reason.
Whether you live in a densely populated city centre or in the middle of the countryside, the air you breathe on a daily basis contains dangerous tiny particles – known as PM2.5 – which have come from industrial factories, power plants, and vehicles.
When inhaled, these particles begin to irritate your lungs and the blood vessels around your heart, and your body responds by activating immune cells called macrophages.
This may sound like a clever body response, but it is this process that can eventually lead to a heart attack. As Doctor Drazen, a professor of environmental health at Harvard, puts it, ‘these cells are intimately involved in the creation of artery-clogging plaque, which interferes with blood flow’.
Once your heart is robbed of its blood supply (as is the case in a heart attack), it can develop an irregular heart rhythm which leads to Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
Is UK Air Pollution Dangerous?
When looking at air pollution on a global scale, the air quality in Delhi, India is the worst of any major city. Only a few weeks ago, Indian health officials announced that levels of PM2.5 particles in the air were over 10 times the safe limit, meaning a serious threat to life.
Back in the UK, pollution on this scale is no longer a worry. However, the levels of dangerous particles are still high enough to pose a risk to life.
In February 2016, The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) estimated that poor ambient air quality is responsible for 40,000 premature deaths in the UK every year. From cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness, and lung cancer to diabetes and neurological diseases, the impact of air pollution on our entire body is significant.
If we focus on SCA in particular, new data released as recently as October 2019 by King’s College London shows that higher air pollution days trigger an additional 124 out-of-hospital SCAs in eight major cities across the UK. That’s an average increase of 2.15%.
This figure is alarming, and with 9.3 million people in the UK already living with cardiovascular or coronary heart disease, air pollution’s effect on our heart is something that we must take seriously.
How Can You Protect Your Heart from Air Pollution?
When it comes to protecting your heart, there are multiple solutions.
The most effective (but certainly not the simplest) would be to clean up the quality of the air we breathe, and many local councils are attempting to do just this.
In April 2019, London introduced the ultra-low emission zone to reduce the number of emission-producing cars driving into the city. And in November 2019, Bristol announced that it was banning diesel cars from entering the city centre clean air zone for eight hours a day by March 2021.
These are certainly great starting points, but do they go far enough? Will people just take their car elsewhere or travel at different times of the day instead? Are they being implemented soon enough? Are all local councils working towards the same goal?
There’s a simpler solution, and it’s something that YOU can do to protect yourself from the dangers of Sudden Cardiac Death…
Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) are portable devices designed for the emergency treatment of SCA. They analyse the heart’s rhythm and, if needed, deliver a controlled electric shock to the chest to help the blood pump normally again.
If air pollution reaches dangerous levels and someone nearby suffers an SCA, knowing where your nearest AED is could save their life.