Air pollution has been linked to poor heart health and defects like irregular heartbeats, according to a study done by more than 20 authors, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Time reported that Dr. Renjie Chen of Fudan University in Shanghai, one of the paper’s 20 co-authors, said in a statement, “We found that acute exposure to ambient air pollution was associated with increased risk of symptomatic arrhythmia.”

In the study, researchers located in China found the risks of symptomatic arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, surfaced after the first several hours of exposure and could last for 24 hours.

“That’s bad news, as arrhythmias can result in blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and even sudden death in some cases,” Time said.

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Study details

The Guardian said the study consisted of data from more than 190,115 patients in 322 Chinese cities suffering from sudden-onset arrhythmia, “including atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, premature beats and supraventricular tachycardia.”

“The researchers analyzed the concentrations of six air pollutants from monitoring stations closest to the reporting hospitals,” The Guardian reported.

According to the study, the six pollutants monitored were:

  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2).
  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2).
  • Carbon monoxide (CO).
  • Ozone.
  • Fine particles 2.5-10 micrometers in size.
  • Coarse particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers.

“Of the six pollutants, nitrogen dioxide was the most damaging, increasing the odds of all four types of arrhythmia,” Time said.

Per Time, “Incidents of atrial flutter increased 11.4% on days when nitrogen dioxide levels were high; for ventricular tachycardia it was 8.9%, followed by premature beats at 3.7% and atrial fibrillation at 3.4%.”

The study found exposure to dangerous air particles that measured smaller than 2.5 micrometers had a higher chance of atrial flutter and supraventricular tachycardia.

The Guardian quoted the study authors: “Although the exact mechanisms are not yet fully understood, the association between air pollution and acute onset of arrhythmia that we observed is biologically plausible.”

The researchers added, “Our study adds to evidence of adverse cardiovascular effects of air pollution, highlighting the importance of further reducing exposure to air pollution and of prompt protection of susceptible populations worldwide.”

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Air quality and atherosclerosis

Another study linking poor air quality to heart health was published in March.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a study spanning 10 years that found a connection between air pollution and atherosclerosis.

The researchers found that long-term exposure to air quality that barely reaches the National Ambient Air Quality Standards “can prematurely age blood vessels and contribute to a more rapid buildup of calcium in the coronary artery.”

Per the Mayo Clinic, atherosclerosis is when plaque, or buildup of cholesterol and other fat-like substances in and on artery walls, continues to grow, which can affect the blood flow inside an artery.