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Traffic Jams Harm the Heart
Date:3/13/2009

Study finds chances of heart attack triples in first hour afterward

FRIDAY, March 13 (HealthDay News) -- Forget road rage. A new study out of Germany has uncovered evidence that getting stuck in traffic prompts an even more serious and immediate consequence -- a much higher risk for suffering a heart attack.

The finding does not isolate which particular virtue of road congestion -- stress, pollution, car exhaust or noise -- might be the driving force behind the apparent cardiovascular threat.

However, after a four-year analysis of nearly 1,500 heart attack cases, the authors came to the conclusion that making one's way through traffic -- whether as a driver, a rider of public transport, or even a bicyclist -- seems to more than triple the chances for experiencing a heart attack in the first hour immediately following exposure.

"We found that when people are participating in traffic, they have a threefold increased risk to experience a heart a attack one hour later," said study author Annette Peters, head of the research unit at the Institute of Epidemiology in Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen, Germany, and an adjunct associate professor in Harvard's School of Public Health.

"For someone with a very low risk for a heart attack, this doesn't mean much," Peters noted. "But for someone already at a higher risk for a heart attack -- because of lifestyle issues such as smoking or being overweight, or perhaps because of genetic makeup -- then traffic might be an additional stressor that could cause a heart attack to occur at this time."

The finding was expected to be presented Thursday at the American Heart Association's Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention annual conference, in Palm Harbor, Fla.

To explore the issue, the German team focused on a pool of heart patients in the southern German town of Augsburg.

One-quarter of the patients were women, and the average age was 60
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