Can Air Pollution Cause Atrial Fibrillation?

September 12, 2008 6:23 AM CT

I write and talk a lot about air pollution and heart disease. We’ve known for a long time, from a wide array of studies, that air pollution can lead to heart disease and heart attacks.

Air pollution has always caused my heart to race, but I thought I was unusual in that regard. Apparently not.

In Air Pollution Can Hinder Heart’s Electrical Functioning, it was found that air pollution can significantly and negatively affect the ability of the heart to conduct electrical signals in those who have coronary artery disease. The study was just reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

In this study, 48 Boston-area patients (80% male) — all had just been hospitalized for heart attacks or serious coronary artery disease — had Holter monitor tests over the ten months following their release from the hospital.

When air pollution levels increased, study participants showed an electrical conductivity change called ST-segment depression. This change may indicate inadequate blood flow to the heart or an inflamed heart. Those recovering from heart attacks had greater ST-segment depression than other participants. And yet, all were breathing air that was considered healthy.

According to the senior author of this study, “Further research is needed to evaluate whether the pollution-related ST-segment depression that we see is related to increased heart muscle inflammation, reduced oxygen flow, oxidative stress, or increased risk of arrhythmias.”

While there is no absolute proof here of a relationship between air pollution and atrial fibrillation, this is certainly enough to cause those with atrial fibrillation that are exposed regularly to air pollution to think twice about it, especially if they have underlying heart disease. This may also apply to those who have family members with afib as it often runs in families.

As I look back, I realize that my heart raced due to air pollution long before I had heart disease and afib, so it doesn’t just happen because you have heart disease.  

Am I more sensitive than most? Perhaps. I’ve always had allergies and extreme sensitivity to air pollution. Maybe I’m the proverbial “canary in the coal mine”.

If so, you may want to be very careful of air pollution yourself. I know how truly devastating the results of air pollution can be, especially once you have heart disease or afib.  

Can air pollution cause or trigger atrial fibrillation? What’s your experience? Please click here to add your comments at the Atrial Fibrillation Blog.

–Mellanie True Hills