When you think of air pollution and your health, your first thought may be the negative impact on your lungs. While the toxic gases, dust, fumes and odors can harm the human respiratory system, they can also impact another area of the body – your arteries.
Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center conducted a study in which air pollution was linked to a dangerous narrowing of the neck arteries, increasing risk of stroke. The study, which used Life Line Screening data, examined about 300,000 people living in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Those living in areas with the highest levels of air pollution had dramatically higher signs of stenosis (narrowing) in the carotid arteries compared to those living in areas with lower air pollution levels.
Traditional risk factors for stroke such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking are still important to understand and reduce, but this study shows that outside risk factors like air pollution can also play a role in stroke risk. In addition, past medical studies have found that high air pollution can lead to temporary jumps in heart attack and stroke cases. Long-term air pollution has been linked to these health conditions, as well.
"Most of the studies in this area have focused on the heart and the coronary arteries; no one has really looked at other parts of the vascular system, in particular the carotid arteries," said Jonathan D. Newman, MD, MPH, a cardiologist at NYU Medical Center and lead author of the study, in a press release. “[This] study was a population study, so it can't establish cause and effect, but it certainly suggests the hypothesis that lowering pollution levels would reduce the incidence of carotid artery stenosis and stroke.”
Identify Your Stroke Risk
What can you do to ensure your own stroke risk is as low as possible? The first step is to identify your risk factors and consider a preventive carotid artery screening. This simple, pain-free screening uses cutting-edge Doppler color flow ultrasound technology to create images of the carotid arteries while measuring blood flow. It can detect whether your carotid arteries have become narrow and are therefore putting you at greater risk of stroke.
Take a proactive approach to your health. While you can only do so much to prevent air pollution where you live, you can take control of your stroke risk by identifying it. Learn more about other stroke risk factors and preventive health screenings today.
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