WEDNESDAY, Feb. 23 (HealthDay News) -- A major analysis of data on potential triggers for heart attacks finds that many of the substances and activities Americans indulge in every day -- coffee, alcohol, sex, even breathing -- can all help spur an attack.
Because so many people are exposed to dirty air, air pollution while stuck in traffic topped the list of potential heart attack triggers, with the researchers pegging 7.4 percent of heart attacks to roadway smog.
But coffee was also linked to 5 percent of attacks, booze to another 5 percent, and pot smoking to just under 1 percent, the European researchers found.
Among everyday activities, exerting yourself physically was linked to 6.2 percent of heart attacks, indulging in a heavy meal was estimated to trigger 2.7 percent, and sex was linked to 2.2 percent.
The researchers stressed that the risk for heart attack from any one of these factors to a particular person at any given time is extremely small. But spread out over the population, they can add up.
For example, air pollution is a minor trigger for heart attacks, but since so many people are exposed to smog, it triggers many more heart attacks than other more potent triggers, such as alcohol and cocaine.
"Small risks can be highly relevant if they are widely distributed in the population," explained lead researcher Tim S. Nawrot, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Hasselt Centre for Environmental Sciences at Hasselt University in Diepenbeek, Belgium.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Gregg Fonarow, spokesman for the American Heart Association and professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, added that "based on these findings, improvement in air quality and reduction in traffic may not just help the environment and increase quality of life, but also substantially decrease the incidence of [heart attack]."
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