A new study reveals that environmental and household air pollution is a major cause of global strokes. It is a major cause of heart problems and accounts for almost one in three strokes.
Nine out of every 10 strokes around the globe are caused by potentially modifiable risk factors, with about three-quarters of the burden related to behavioral and metabolic factors and about one-third due to environmental factors—notably, air pollution.
The findings, from the study published in the journal Lancet Neurology of 188 countries, indicate that stroke is largely a disease of lifestyle. The number was significantly higher in developing countries (34 percent) than it was in developed countries (10 percent).
Though behavioral factors like diet, smoking, and exercise are all contributing factors to stroke, air pollution was identified as a significant cause of strokes because of its risk to blood vessels.
Microscopic particles, much of which are generated by diesel exhausts, have been shown to cause clotting, which can lead to a stroke.
The researchers found that behavioral factors like smoking, poor diet, and low physical activity accounted for 74.2% of stroke cases and that a host of metabolic risk factors, including high blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose, and total cholesterol and poor renal function, contributed to 72.4%.
Environmental factors accounted for 33.4% of the stroke burden, with air pollution alone contributing to 29.2% of cases. The risk of stroke increases drastically if people are exposed to pollution. Each year, around 15 million people globally suffer from strokes.
In order to combat stroke, measures to reduce air pollution should be one of the main priorities, because air pollution has emerged as a leading contributor to stroke burden, particularly in the developing world.
A very strong case is being made for urgent implementation of both population-wide and high-risk primary prevention strategies across the globe.
Described as “the most alarming finding”, the researchers say air pollution is not just a problem in big cities, but is also a global problem.