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Heavy Traffic Can Be Heartbreaking
Date:11/30/2008

Exposure to air pollution is linked to hardening of the arteries

SUNDAY, Nov. 30 (HealthDay News) -- The decline in highway traffic that was brought on by last summer's spike in gas prices may be a boon to heart health.

That's because automobile emissions are among a long list of risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

"There's a very coherent and consistent body of data that links particulate air pollution with cardiovascular disease and premature death," said Dr. Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, an environmental and public health advocacy group.

Among the latest evidence: a German study published recently in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, which found that people who live near heavy traffic are more likely to develop atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, which can boost the risk of heart disease.

Atherosclerosis is a progressive disease that begins with damage to the lining of the arteries. Over time, the arteries accumulate plaque, a combination of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances. This causes the arteries to become rigid and narrow, impeding the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart and other parts of the body. This can lead to a heart attack, stroke or even death, according to the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

In 2004, the American Heart Association issued its first official statement on air pollution and cardiovascular disease. In reviewing the scientific evidence, an expert panel concluded that short-term exposure to elevated particulate matter, which includes motor vehicle emissions, "significantly contributes to increased acute cardiovascular mortality, particularly in certain at-risk subsets of the population."

The panel further noted that prolonged exposure to elevated levels of air pollution reduced overall life expectancy "on the order of a few ye
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