Air pollution slashes survival chances for heart transplant patients

Air pollution slashes the survival chances for heart transplant patients, finds study

  • Experts at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio tracked 22,000 people
  • All of the patients had received a donor heart between 2004 and 2015 
  • They compared patients’ home address against levels of PM2.5 pollution 

Air pollution slashes the survival chances for people who have undergone a heart transplant, researchers have found.

People who live in areas where there are lots of sooty particles in the air have a 26 per cent increased chance of dying due to infection after receiving a new heart.

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio tracked nearly 22,000 people who had received a donor heart between 2004 and 2015.

They compared patients’ home address against levels of PM2.5 – a type of air pollution which is particularly linked to vehicle emissions.

People who live in areas where there are lots of sooty particles in the air have a 26 per cent increased chance of dying due to infection after receiving a new heart

Those who lived in areas where pollution levels breached national limits were 26 per cent more likely to die within 4.8 years of the operation than those living in areas of cleaner air.

Study leader Professor Sanjay Rajagopalan, whose findings are published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, said: ‘Long-term exposure to air pollution appears to pose amplified risks for heart transplant recipients.

‘We found an association between PM2.5 and mortality in these transplant patients.

‘Given the fact that organ transplantation adds a tremendous cost to society, we had an interest in understanding if previously unknown environmental detriments adversely affected the outcomes of these patients.’ 

Heart transplant recipients are vulnerable to infections because their immune systems are suppressed after an operation to reduce the chance the new organ will be rejected.

In this vulnerable state, patients exposed to high air pollution saw inflammation, an increase in blood pressure and higher insulin resistance.

Professor C Arden Pope III of Brigham Young University, writing in an editorial piece in the same journal, said: ‘This study makes an important contribution to our understanding of the health effects of air pollution.

‘It used a straightforward approach to evaluate health effects of air pollution in a unique cohort of individuals in a vulnerable health state.

‘It provides intriguing evidence that exposure to air pollution substantially contributes to mortality risk in cardiac transplant patients.’ About 200 heart transplants are conducted in the UK every year.

Air pollution has long been linked with breathing issues and heart disease – and in recent years emerging evidence has raised concerns it also causes developmental problems and dementia.

Doctors estimate it kills about 64,000 people a year in Britain – knocking 18 months off average life expectancy.

The UK is notoriously bad at controlling air pollution, with 37 cities British cities persistently displaying ‘illegal’ levels of air pollution – which has seen the Government repeatedly hauled into court over the last few years. 


CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE A LOW IQ: Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found in May 2019 that children born to mothers who live in polluted areas have an IQ that is up to seven points lower than those living in places with cleaner air.

CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE POORER MEMORY: Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found boys exposed to greater levels of PM2.5 in the womb  performed worse on memory tests by the time they are 10.

DELAY THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHILDREN: Youngsters who live less than one-third of a mile away from busy roads are twice as likely to score lower on tests of communication skills in infancy, found researchers at Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health in April. They were also more likely to have poorer hand-eye coordination.

MAKE CHILDREN MORE ANXIOUS: University of Cincinnati scientists claimed pollution may alter the structure of children’s brains to make them more anxious. Their study of 14 youngsters found rates of anxiety was higher among those exposed to greater levels of pollution. 

CUT YOUR CHILD’S LIFE SHORT: Children born today will lose nearly two years of their lives because of air pollution, according to a report by the US-based Health Effects Institute and the University of British Columbia in April 2019. UNICEF called for action on the back of the study.

RAISE A CHILD’S RISK OF AUTISM: Researchers at Monash University in Australia discovered youngsters living in highly polluted parts of Shanghai have a 86 per cent greater chance of developing ASD. Lead author Dr Yuming Guo said: ‘The developing brains of young children are more vulnerable to toxic exposures in the environment.’

CAUSE ASTHMA IN CHILDREN: Four million children around the world develop asthma each year because of road traffic pollution, a major study by academics at George Washington University estimated. Experts are divided as to what causes asthma – but exposure to pollution in childhood increases the risk by damaging the lungs.

MAKE CHILDREN FAT: University of Southern California experts found last November that 10 year olds who lived in polluted areas when they were babies are, on average, 2.2lbs (1kg), heavier than those who grew up around cleaner air. Nitrogen dioxide pollution could disrupt how well children burn fat, the scientists said. 

LEAVE WOMEN INFERTILE EARLIER: Scientists at the University of Modena, Italy, claimed in May 2019 that they believe pollution speeds up ageing in women, just like smoking, meaning they run out of eggs faster. This was based on them finding almost two-thirds of women who have a low ‘reserve’ of eggs regularly inhaled toxic air.

RAISE THE RISK OF A MISCARRIAGE: University of Utah scientists found in January that pregnant women are 16 per cent more likely to suffer the heartbreak of a miscarriage if they live in areas of high pollution.  

RAISE THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER: Scientists at the University of Stirling found six women working at the same bridge next to a busy road in the US got breast cancer within three years of each other. There was a one in 10,000 chance the cases were a coincidence, the study said. It suggested chemicals in the traffic fumes caused the cancer by shutting down the BRCA genes, which try to stop tumours growing. 

DAMAGE A MAN’S SPERM: Brazilian scientists at the University of Sao Paulo found in March that mice exposed to toxic air had lower counts and worse quality sperm compared to those who had inhaled clean air since birth. 

MAKE MEN LESS LIKELY TO GET SEXUALLY AROUSED: Scientists at Guangzhou Medical University in China found rats exposed to air pollution struggled to get sexually aroused. Scientists believe it may also affect men, as inhaling poisonous particles may trigger inflammation in blood vessels and starve the genitals of oxygen – affecting men’s ability to become sexually aroused.

MAKE MEN MORE LIKELY TO HAVE ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION:  Men who live on main roads are more likely to have difficulty getting an erection due to exposure to pollution, a Guangzhou University in China study suggested in February. Toxic fumes reduced blood flow to the genitals, tests on rats showed, putting them at risk of developing erectile dysfunction. 

RAISE THE RISK OF PSYCHOSIS: In March, King’s College London scientists linked toxic air to intense paranoia and hearing voices in young people for the first time. They said uncovering exactly how pollution may lead to psychosis should be an ‘urgent health priority’.

MAKE YOU DEPRESSED: Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found in January that that the more polluted the air, the sadder we are. Their study was based on analysing social media users in China alongside the average daily PM2.5 concentration and weather data where they lived.

CAUSE DEMENTIA: Air pollution could be responsible for 60,000 cases of dementia in the UK, researchers from King’s College London and St George’s, University of London, calculated last September. Tiny pollutants breathed deep into the lungs and enter the blood stream, where they may travel into the brain and cause inflammation – a problem which may trigger dementia.

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