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Cycling in cities with high levels of pollution can lead to heart failure, study finds

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Cycling in heavily polluted environments can damage the lungs and lead to heart failure, a new study has found.

In highly polluted areas experts say exercise that make the lungs work harder will narrow the blood vessels, making heart failure more likely, says the study published in Derry Journal.

Exercising in clean air is just as important as controlling high cholesterol in reducing the chance of cardiovascular disease, new research suggests.

In a study experts from Brussels University Hospital examined the effect that air pollution had on a group of test subjects. Lead author cardiologist Dr Jean-Francois Argacha said: “This is the first human study to report an influence of air pollution on pulmonary vascular function.

“This is a major public health issue for people living in polluted urban areas where exercise could damage the lungs and potentially lead to decompensated heart failure.”

Between 2009 and 2013 Dr Argacha and his team conducted pulmonary pressure tests on a population of 16,295 individuals and compared them with the average air pollution in Brussels on the same day and the last five and ten days.

The team also subjected ten healthy men to ambient air and diluted diesel exhaust fumes in a chamber over a two hour period before conducting a cardiac stress test to stimulate the heart.

They found that air pollution makes it more difficult for the blood to flow into the lungs, specifically impairing the right ventricles. It was also found that patients with obstructive sleep apnoea – where the walls of the throat narrow during sleep – are most at risk.

Dr Argacha said: “This suggests that pollution is more harmful to the lung circulation during exercise. Such studies are important because if air pollution causes narrowing of the blood vessels in the lungs (vasoconstriction), this combined with the systemic effects of pollution could cause decompensated heart failure.

“Air pollution was associated with increased pulmonary vascular tone which makes it more difficult for blood to flow to the lungs. Longer exposure to air pollution exposure seems necessary to impair right ventricular systolic function.