"There are likely to be many other factors that are more important than [fine air particulate matter] exposure in explaining socioeconomic inequalities in prognosis, and this requires further investigation," Tonne said.
People from poorer backgrounds often live in areas with higher levels of air pollution, the study authors noted. These people also tend to have worse outcomes following heart problems than those with a higher socioeconomic status.
"This raises the possibility that exposure to air pollution may explain, in part, the differences in prognosis among heart attack patients from different backgrounds," said Tonne.
While the study tied air pollution exposure to higher death rates among heart attack survivors, it didn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The findings were limited by the fact that researchers were unable to determine how many people died due to a heart-related problem. In addition, exposure to air pollution was based on where patients lived and didn't consider travel away from home.
"The most important message is that reduction in the amount of pollutants in metropolitan areas does indeed decrease cardiovascular mortality within a time interval as short as a few years," wrote Pier Mannucci, scientific director of the IRCCS Ca' Granda Maggiore Policlinico Hospital Foundation in Milan, Italy, in an accompanying journal editorial.
The "huge toll of deaths worldwide owing to air pollution could be substantially reduced by approximately 1 million annually from the current estimate of 1.34 million if the WHO [World Health Organization] recommendations pertaining to [fine particulate matter] concentrations were implemented," he added. "The responsibility fo
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