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Air Pollution and Stroke Risk: an NYC Study

NYC traffic scene--this air pollution and stroke risk are linked
Adapted from image by Maria Bruna, licensed under CC.

New Yorkers concerned about stroke risk, take heed. A new study sheds light on one risk factor for stroke: breathing polluted air.

The study, published this month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, examined more than 300,000 NYC-area residents. It found that people who live in areas with the highest levels of air pollution have an almost 25% greater chance of having something called carotid stenosis.

Carotid stenosis is a problem that is often associated with stroke. In this condition, the carotid arteries in the neck become narrowed. They can have trouble delivering enough blood to the brain. Carotid stenosis is involved with about half the strokes in this country, according to the American College of Cardiology press release about the study.

There are many risk factors for stroke. Some are hereditary and so can’t be changed. Others, like cigarette smoking, are under an individual’s control.

And where does polluted air fit in?

The study’s author, Dr. Jonathan Newman, suggests that people at high risk for stroke might want to stay indoors on days that the air quality is particularly bad. “For people who are very young, very old or have other medical problems, air pollution could be a significant source of cardiovascular disease risk,” he says.

On the other hand, “If you’re in good health, the level of air pollution we see in most parts of the United States probably doesn’t pose a significant health risk to you.” Even so, the study “draw[s] attention to the importance of [reducing] air pollution.”

And that’s something we could all breathe a little easier about.

To learn more about stroke and carotid stenosis, visit the home page of the  Cerebrovascular Center.

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