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Many contributors cause dangerous high blood pressure but a recent study has added air pollution as another significant risk to our heart health.
Published in the journal Hypertension, the study was conducted by epidemiologist Dr Tao Liu, of the Guangdong Provincial Institute of Public Health in China. It looked at data collected from 17 previous studies which collectively examined 330,000 people. 108,000 were hypertension patients and 220,000 were healthy control subjects.
Three pollutants in particular were examined. These were:
Sulphur dioxide is produced when fossil fuels are burned. Short term exposure was found to significantly increase blood pressure.
Nitrogen oxide is created from burning fossil fuels particularly vehicle and power plant combustion. It increased blood pressure in long term exposures.
These particles are found in polluted air including smoke, dust and liquid droplets. High blood pressure occurred when people were exposed to PM2.5 and PM10 sized particles.
Dr Liu said the results are controversial and that others in the past have also indicated air pollution as a high blood pressure risk. The research team suggested that people should limit their exposure on high pollution levels days, particularly those with an existing condition.
It's thought air pollution causes inflammation and oxidative stress which leads to changes in the arteries.
DEFRA, who carry out air quality monitoring across the UK, says that at high levels air pollution causes respiratory illness, such as asthma, and other serious conditions like dementia, cancer and heart disease. This is because gases and particles irritate airways, travel into the lungs to cause inflammation and in the case of carbon dioxide, prevent oxygen uptake in the blood.
Some pressure is needed to pump blood around the body, but when there's too much pressure it strains and damages the arteries and heart. This can lead to heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage, heart failure and dementia.
It's measured in two figures.
A healthy blood pressure reading is 120/80mmHg.
High blood pressure is a killer. Over 1 in 4 UK adults have the illness but many are not aware of it because there are no obvious symptoms. The illness is usually picked up at a routine doctor appointment. Everyone should have their blood pressure checked at least every five years.
As well as pollution levels there are other risk factors for high blood pressure:
High blood pressure must be taken seriously. It should measure no more the 120/80. Those with a consistent reading of 140/90 should make the lifestyle changes listed below. Anyone with a higher reading will likely need medication.
Lifestyle changes include:
It's thought 40,000 deaths are caused by air pollution in the UK every year. Currently EU regulations mean that new vehicles can still emit double the allowed limit until 2021, reducing to 'only' 50% more after that date. In 2012 The World Health Organisation estimated that outdoor air pollution caused 3.7 million premature deaths a year.
Although the NHS doesn't yet suggest it, perhaps we should be avoiding polluted areas for the sake of our health. New research that's uncovered strong links between fossil fuels and high blood pressure is a stark warning that we are causing problems in our environment. These problems inevitably come back to us in the form of ill health. Whenever possible ride your bike, walk, and turn out unused lights to cut down on the amount of fossil fuels we burn.
Those with high blood pressure who are worried about the pollution levels in their area should speak to their doctor about any concerns.