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Air Pollution May Up Fatal Stroke Risk

Risk May Be Tied to Fine Particle Pollution During Warm Months, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 15, 2007 -- Fine particles in air pollution may raise fatal stroke risk in people aged 65 and older during warm months.

So say experts including Jaana Kettunen, MSc, of Finland's National Public Health Institute.

Kettunen's team studied fatal stroke risk and air pollution among people 65 and older in Helsinki, Finland's capital.

The study, published in Stroke, shows a rise in fatal stroke risk among people 65 and older on warm days when the air was laden with fine particle pollution.

Based on the findings, Kettunen offers some advice in an American Stroke Association news release.

"We suggest that on high pollution days, elderly people should avoid spending unnecessary time in traffic, whether in a vehicle or walking, especially if they suffer from cardiovascular diseases, to lower their exposure to pollutants," says Kettunen.

"They should also avoid heavy outdoor exercise on high pollution days, and nursing homes, for example, should not be built along heavily trafficked roads, where particle concentrations are at their highest."

Study Details

Kettunen and colleagues studied air pollution and fatal stroke in metropolitan Helsinki -- where about a million people live -- from 1998 to 2004.

During those years, 3,265 people 65 and older died of stroke in metropolitan Helsinki, the study shows.

Most of the deaths -- 1,961 -- occurred during the cold months of October to April. The other 1,304 deaths happened during Helsinki's warm season, May to September.

The researchers also checked Helsinki's outdoor air pollution levels during the months. Data came from pollution-measuring stations around Helsinki.

Kettunen's team paid special attention to fine particles. Fine particles mainly come from combustion engines and have been suggested to be "especially harmful," write the researchers.

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