Car exhaust and other air pollution, even at levels considered safe by federal regulations, may substantially increase the risk of a stroke, a research team from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has found.

After reviewing the medical records of more than 1,700 stroke patients in the Boston area over 10 years, the researchers found a 34 percent increase in the risk of ischemic strokes on days with moderate air quality compared with days when the air was rated good by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

A lifetime’s exposure to air pollution may contribute to mental decline in older women,” according to the study published online Feb. 13 in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Both exposure to fine particulate matter air pollution — less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, or about 1/30th of the diameter of a human hair — and coarse particulate matter — between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter — were associated with mental declines in women.

A second study published in the same journal “found that more people were admitted to aBostonhospital for ischemic stroke on days when levels of fine particulate air pollution were high.

The second study “found that short-term exposure to fine particulate matter — even at levels allowed by the EPA – can increase the risk of ischemic stroke.

The relationship between higher particulate levels and increased risk of stroke was linear, strongest within 12 hours of exposure, and was seen among patients with strokes caused by large-artery atherosclerosis or small-vessel occlusion but not cardioembolism. [AMA News]

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