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Photos of tiny blood vessels in the eye link air pollution to heart disease
Date:11/30/2010

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---By digitally photographing the tiny, hair-like blood vessels in the back of our eyes, researchers can now look directly at how small blood vessels like those that bring blood to the heart respond to air pollution.

New digital photos of the retina revealed that otherwise healthy people exposed to high levels of air pollution had narrower retinal arterioles, an indication of a higher risk of heart disease.

Previous studies linked pollution to heart disease. The new study, published this week in PLoS Medicine, is the first known to examine relationships between pollution and extremely tiny blood vessels, called the microvasculature, in humans, said Sara Adar, research assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Adar did the work while an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health.

Researchers found that participants with short-term exposures to small amounts of pollution had the microvascular blood vessels of someone three years older, and people with long-term exposures to high pollution had the vessels of a person seven years older. Adar said that "such a change would translate to a 3 percent increase in heart disease for a woman living with high levels of air pollution as compared to a woman in a cleaner area."

Retinal vessels are an example of the very small vessels that exist in the heart and throughout the body, but the ones in the eye are unique in that we can see them and take pictures of them and measure them directly in people without needing scalpels, probes, or anesthesia, said Dr. Joel Kaufman, professor of medicine and occupational and environmental health sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, and senior author. "The fact that this study identified a relationship between microvascular width and air pollution exposures provides a strong potential link between the epidemiological observations of more cardiovascul
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Contact: Laura Bailey
baileylm@umich.edu
734-647-1848
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

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