Air pollutionWomen with diabetes are at higher risk of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke if they are exposed to air pollution, including particles from engine combustion and road dust, a study has found.

The large-scale study, published  in the Journal of the American Heart Association and carried out by scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, looked at nearly 115,000 women between 1989 and 2006 to assess the impact of air pollution on health outcomes.

Within the trial group there were 6,767 cases of cardiovascular disease, 3,878 cases of coronary heart disease and 3,295 strokes. 

Rates of cardiovascular disease rose slightly for all women when exposed to tiny pollution particles found in engine combustion, power plants and road dust. However, for the women with diabetes, the risk increases were greater. For every additional 10 micrograms of pollution particle exposure, the risk of developing cardiovascular disease increased by 19%, while the risk of having a stroke increased 23%. 

Additionally, the finest pollution particles (known as PM 2.5), which are found in exhaust and power plant fumes and can enter the bloodstream when inhaled, raised the most risk. Exposure to an additional 10 micrograms of PM 2.5 pollution led to a 44% increase in heart disease risk and 66% increase in stroke risk.  

Pollution was also particularly harmful for women age 70 and older, those who were obese and those living in the Northeast or South. Risks were highest in relation to pollution exposure within the previous 12 months. 

Lead author Jaime E. Hart of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston said: “There is a convincing literature that long-term air pollution is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. 

“A number of studies of short-term air pollution exposures have suggested that individuals with diabetes are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease.”