Heart Attacks and the Environment

heart attacks and the environment

Investigators in the United States and worldwide have shown short- and long- term exposure to air pollution increases risk of acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) and other forms of ischemic heart disease (also known as coronary artery disease or coronary heart disease).

A number of studies have reported associations between air pollution and hospital stays for heart attacks and other forms of heart disease. For example, researchers have demonstrated increases in heart attack hospital stay rates in relation to the levels of fine particles in the air (PM2.5). This relationship is observed particularly in sensitive groups such as the elderly, patients with pre-existing heart disease, survivors of a heart attack, or people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The level of environmental risk for heart attacks depends on several factors:

  • the amount of pollution in the air
  • a person's exposure to the air pollution
  • overall health

Other risks include conditions and behavioral factors, such as:

  • High blood cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Drinking too much alcohol

Heart disease can run in the family. Genetic factors likely play some role in high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, diabetes, heart disease, and other vascular conditions. However, people with a family history of heart disease likely share common environments and risk factors that may further increase their risk.


A heart attack can happen to anyone—people must take the time to learn which of the risk factors apply to them specifically and take steps to eliminate or reduce them.

Following are steps people can take to reduce their risk for a heart attack:

  • Prevent and control high blood cholesterol
  • Prevent and control high blood pressure
  • Prevent and control diabetes
  • Do not smoke
  • Moderate alcohol use
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Do regular physical activity
  • Eat a nutritious diet

Also, people can take steps to help protect their health from air pollution:

  • Know their sensitivity to air pollution
  • Know when air pollution may be bad in their area
  • Plan activities when and where pollution levels are lower, using the Air Quality Index to guide planning
  • Change their activity level
  • Listen to their bodies
  • Consult their healthcare provider
  • Have their medication with them