The Role of Air Pollution in Hypertension

Bootstrap Case

Hypertension affects approximately 1 in every 3 people in the United States.

It is a fancy word more commonly known as high blood pressure. Hypertension is a serious medical condition in which the force of blood flowing through the arteries is too strong. Blood flows through our bodies each time our heart beats and when the blood flow pushes strongly against the arteries, your blood pressure increases. Your blood pressure fluctuates between many different levels throughout the day depending upon your activity and stress levels.

While you might not think they are related, air quality and cardiovascular problems, such as hypertension, are in fact connected. Our outdoor air quality has been declining throughout the years making air pollution almost impossible to avoid. Air pollution is a complex mixture of gasses, liquids and particulate matter. Have you ever thought about where pollution comes from? According to the National Park Service, there are four main sources of air pollution:

  1. Mobile sources – cars, buses, planes
  2. Stationary sources – power plants, oil refineries, factories
  3. Area sources – agricultural areas, cities, wood burning fireplaces
  4. Natural sources – dust, wildfires, volcanic activity

Particulate matter is a main part of air pollution and can cause short and long term increased risks for cardiovascular problems. Particulates can be as simple and as small (or large) as dirt and dust. The size of this matter becomes concerning because ultra-fine particles (often found in diesel fumes, for example) can lodge themselves into our lungs where they can be directly absorbed into the bloodstream. Long-term exposure to these size particulates can eventually lead to heart disease, lung disease and other major health concerns.

This is especially concerning in highly populated areas, such as many parts of China – several areas have been flagged as some of the most contaminated parts in the world. The American Lung Association has recorded air quality for 17 years. The program “State of the AIR” monitors the amount of ozone and particulate pollution in some of the most polluted cities in the United States from year to year.

Several studies have been done over the years to test the link between air pollution and hypertension. In the final report from the EPA’s research, there was a clear increase in the amount of heart condition related deaths in cities where air pollution was high versus ones that were less polluted. Particulate matter pollution is a form of pollution that not many people are aware of. People who suffer from hypertension are more susceptible to the negative effects of particulate matter in the air than people who have normal to low blood pressure. Damage caused by this exposure includes altering the way the heart functions such as changes in heart pressure, flow and abnormal heart rhythms. Ultra-fine particulate matter exposure takes direct effect on the cardiovascular system.

Hypertension itself causes strain on the heart and blood vessels in our bodies. This condition increases the risk of heart attacks, metabolic syndrome and strokes. Air pollution, only makes the effects of this condition worse. Heart disease is the number one leading cause of death among men and women in the United States. The elderly are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, though it does not neglect those of younger ages.

KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE – Normal blood pressure is generally less than 120/80 (systolic/diastolic). Hypertension is blood pressure above 140/90, and in severe cases 180/120. Our systolic blood pressure is taken when the heart muscles are contracting and pumping oxygen-rich blood into the vessels. Diastolic blood pressure is taken which the heart muscles are relaxing and refilling with blood. Systolic blood pressure reading is always the higher of the two numbers.

There are several ways to prevent hypertension that are simply healthy lifestyle changes. Though medication is commonly associated with this condition to control blood pressure levels and keep them low, there are also lifestyle changes you can make. A healthy balanced diet, with a focus on low sodium intake along with exercise can help to keep stress levels down. Limiting the amount of alcohol consumed and avoiding tobacco also contributes to keeping blood pressure at a normal level. The link between air pollution and hypertension is clear; however, if you are somebody who suffers from hypertension, even healthy lifestyle choices may not be enough to combat the link between air pollution and hypertension if you live in a heavily polluted city.

As always, Austin Air aims to bring awareness to various aspects of health and wellness. The more knowledge we have, the better we can take steps to make our environment cleaner and healthier. As far as indoor air quality is concerned, visit our products page for more information or to purchase an air cleaner.