Medpage Today (February 13, 2012): Air Pollution Tied to Stroke, Cognitive Slide

Publication Date: 
Mon, 02/13/2012

Airborne pollution can have serious consequences for the brain and the heart even at typical levels of exposure, according to the results of two studies published in the Feb 13 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

In one analysis, researchers led by Gregory Wellenius, ScD, of Brown University in Providence, R.I., found that short-term exposure to fine particulate matter - even at levels allowed by the EPA - can increase the risk of ischemic stroke.

In the other study, a team led by Jennifer Weuve, ScD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and colleagues founds that long-term exposure to particulate matter speeded up cognitive decline in older women.

The first report "adds to the already strong evidence linking (particulate matter) to cardiovascular effects," wrote Rajiv Bhatia, MD, of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, in an accompanying commentary.

And, he added, the cognition study suggests that "we may not fully understand the breadth of (particulate matter) health burdens."

Bhatia concluded that controlling particulate matter is technically feasible, but needs "increased efforts to assess exposure at the community level, more stringent and creative regulatory initiatives, and political support."

Wellenius and colleagues studied links between daily variation in fine particulate matter - particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter - and stroke incidence in the Boston area.

They drew data from medical records of 1,705 patients admitted to a single institution with neurologist-confirmed ischemic stroke between April 1, 1999 and Oct 31, 2008.

Fine matter concentrations were measured at a central monitoring station, using EPA guidelines that define moderate air quality as between 15 and 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air and good air quality as 15 micrograms or lower.

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