Air pollution significantly increases the risk for premature deaths, particularly in people with underlying cardiovascular disease, clinical and epidemiological studies have determined.
In healthy people, inhaling ozone or particle pollution triggers a defensive lung-heart reflex (pulmonary-cardiac reflex) that automatically slows heart rate to accommodate oxygen deficiency and help slow distribution of pollutants throughout the body. Yet, when patients with cardiovascular diseases breathe pollutants that same protective mechanism does not kick in. Instead, their heart rates intermittently speed up, known as tachycardia, and can evoke a potentially deadly irregular heart rhythm, known as premature ventricular contractions.
What accounts for the difference? University of South Florida Health (USF Health) researchers who study the role of sensory airway nerves in protective behaviors wanted to know.