Story at a glance

  • Two U.S. medical experts say doctors should screen patients for air pollution and recommend interventions to limit exposure.
  • Interventions may include minimizing outdoor exercise on “bad air” days.
  • The World Health Organization in 2019 said more than 20 percent of cardiovascular deaths were linked to air pollution.

Two U.S. medical experts are urging other physicians to begin screening patients for exposure to air pollution to improve cardiovascular health, the healthcare sector’s latest move to limit afflictions made worse by climate change.

With multiple studies confirming air pollution’s link to heart-related illness, doctors should recommend interventions to limit exposure, according to a new article in the New England Journal of Medicine by physicians Philip J. Landrigan of Boston College and Sanjay Rajagopalan of the Harrington Heart and Vascular Institute.

Governments, as stewards of public health, should also adopt technologies to reduce air pollution, the pair wrote. Such innovations would also help combat climate change.

“The most effective strategy for achieving this goal is a rapid, government-supported transition from all fossil fuels—coal, gas, and oil—to clean, renewable energy. Household air pollution in low-income countries is most effectively controlled by providing poor families with affordable access to cleaner fuels,” the researchers wrote.


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Cardiovascular disease is the world’s leading cause of death, responsible for 17.9 million deaths worldwide in 2019, according to the World Health Organization. And a World Heart Federation report published in 2019 found that more than 20 percent of cardiovascular deaths are caused by air pollution. That’s more than 3 million deaths every year.

Those numbers illustrate a need for physicians, who already address the role nutrition, diet, exercise, and certain lifestyle choices play in heart health, to help patients recognize risk factors regarding exposure to pollutants and offer evidence-based solutions in turn, the authors argue.

"The first step in preventing pollution-related cardiovascular disease is to overcome neglect of pollution in disease prevention programs, medical education, and clinical practice and acknowledge that pollution is a major, potentially preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease," Landrigan and Rajagopalan wrote.

The duo are not the first to recommend their colleagues start paying more attention to the current environment’s impact on patients’ health, and a woman in Canada over the summer made headlines after being diagnosed as suffering from “climate change.” Doctors said the woman had symptoms of heart failure, among other serious problems, that stemmed from exposure to record-breaking temperatures and poor air quality.

Interventions may include minimizing outdoor exercise on “bad air” days or avoid the use of pollution-emitting devices like fireplaces. Prevention could include the use of face masks and in-home air cleaners.

"What has been missing from this whole conversation about cardiovascular disease is the impact of environmental factors outside of an individual's control," Landrigan, the director of the Program for Global Public Health and the Common Good at Boston College, said in a news release. "It is time to bring these issues into the conversation."


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Published on Nov 12, 2021