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Together, Extreme Heat and Pollution Double the Risk of a Fatal Heart Attack, Analysis Shows

Extreme heat and high levels of particulate pollution may double the risk of a deadly heart attack, a new study finds.

Researchers combed through data on more than 202,000 fatal heart attacks in the Chinese province of Jiangsu from 2015 to 2020. They found that several days of freezing weather led to a slight uptick in the risk of a heart attack, but the risk was far greater during periods of extreme heat.

Four straight days with temperatures upwards of 95 degrees F (35 degrees C) raised the risk of a fatal heart attack by 74 percent. The study found that women were more vulnerable than men to severe heat.

Particulate pollution — bits of dust, soot, or smoke so small they can get stuck in the lungs or enter the bloodstream — ramped up the risk even further. When, during a four-day heat wave, particulates reached levels considered unhealthy for sensitive people, the odds of a fatal heart attack doubled. The findings were published in the journal Circulation.

“To improve public health, it is important to take fine particulate pollution into consideration when providing extreme temperature warnings to the public,” study coauthor Yuewei Liu, an epidemiologist at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, said in a statement.

“Using an air purifier in the house, wearing a mask outdoors, staying clear of busy highways when walking, and choosing less-strenuous outdoor activities,” he added, “may also help to reduce exposure to air pollution on days with high levels of fine particulate pollution.”

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