Can air pollution increase your risk of having a stroke? A doctor clears the air

Air pollution could be a risk factor for having a stroke. Stroke is a serious health issue and can be prevented by reducing exposure to pollutants.
Stroke is a dangerous disease that can be triggered due to air pollution. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Grace Bains Published: 29 Oct 2021, 07:00 am IST
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Winter is around the corner and air pollution stands to increase, thereby giving a fillip to issues such as burning of the eyes and breathing ailments like asthma. Breathing issues, in particular due to air pollution, could also be a risk factor for a stroke.

As per the World Health Organization, strokes are the second leading cause of death and the third leading cause of disability across the world. There are various risk factors associated with this disease, from genetics, air pollution, to lifestyle choices.

It is a serious health ailment and adequate awareness regarding its causes and symptoms would go a long way in mitigating its impact. Each year, on 29th October, World Stroke Day is observed under the aegis of the World Stroke Organization (WSO) to increase awareness and drive action on stroke around the world.

Steering clear of air pollution can prevent strokes. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

To better understand the impact of air pollution on the development of strokes, we spoke to Dr Jaideep Bansal – Director and Head Of Department – Neurology, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, New Delhi.

The menace of air pollution

“Pollution is a matter of serious public health concern and is recognized as one of the leading causes of deaths and diseases. There are many pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, and nitrogen oxides, which are very dangerous for human health. Particulate matter present in the air is mainly generated due to the dust on the roads, vehicles running on roads, construction works, industrial emissions, power plants, industrial and residential places due to heating by oil, and wood or coal,” said Dr Bansal.

Talking about the sources of air pollution, Dr Bansal informed that “Gaseous pollutants are mainly generated in fossil-based power plants, while nitrogen oxides dissolve mainly in the air due to motor vehicle traffic, residential heating, power generation, and industries.”

Link between air pollution and stroke

According to Dr Bansal, “An individual’s risk of stroke due to air pollution is relatively low, but exposure to it is high. The hazard from air pollution is dependent on both the duration of exposure and the toxicity of the pollutant. Once a pollutant has entered the human body, the danger it poses depends on the chemical composition of the pollutant.”

“The biological process of stroke with pollutants is quite complex. Recent studies have shown that air pollutants can cause a deficiency of oxygen and glucose in the body, altering synaptic processes and platelet activation. Moreover, fibrinogen, factor VIII may increase and decrease endothelial function by affecting tissue factor release as well as tampering with inflammatory cytokines, increasing the risk of blood clotting or thrombosis.

Air pollution can contribute to the risk of stroke. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Such pollutants, which enter the body through inhalation, stimulate neural sensory receptors on the surface of the alveoli that activate autonomic mechanisms. This can lead to cardiovascular homeostasis and increase the risk of arrhythmias or strokes,” explained Dr Bansal.

How can we minimise the risk of stroke due to air pollution?

When it comes to minimising the risk of having a stroke due to air pollution, Dr Bansal offered the following recommendations:

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1. Minimizing exposure to air pollutants can be done through certain measures such as walking instead of driving a private vehicle, making maximum use of car-pooling, and disposing of waste properly.

2. Use a mask in polluted places, and avoid heavy traffic on roads.

3. People who have heart disease, asthma, or are taking immunosuppressive therapy should avoid exposure to pollutants.

The last word

Several studies have revealed that long and short term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of stroke. So, as air pollution is a risk factor for a variety of cardiovascular diseases, including stroke, all possible measures should be taken to prevent it at the individual and societal levels.

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About the Author

Grace is someone who likes writing enough to make a living out of it. When she isn’t writing, you will find her having chai and reading a book. ...Read More

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