Road Proximity Increases Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death, Study


Living near highly-populated and traffic-congested roads heighten women's risk of suffering a sudden cardiac death, according to a study led by Harvard Medical School.

"It's important for healthcare providers to recognize that environmental exposures may be under-appreciated risk factors for diseases such as sudden cardiac death and fatal coronary heart disease," said Jaime E. Hart, study lead author and an instructor in medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. "On a population level, living near a major roadway was as important a risk factor as smoking, diet or obesity."

Previous studies found evidence of modest increases in coronary heart disease risk among those living near highly-populated and traffic-congested roads. However, this is the first study to determine the impact of roadway proximity to the risk of sudden cardiac death.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly 35 million Americans lived within 300 meters (984 feet) of a major road in 2009.

For the study, the researchers examined data from 107,130 women (predominately white, average age of 60) who were part of the Nurses' Health Study from 1986-2012.

The researchers found that among 523 cases of sudden cardiac death, living within 50 meters (164 feet) of a major road increased the risk of sudden cardiac death by 38 percent as compared to those living at least 500 meters (.3 miles) away.

Each 100 meters (328 feet) closer to roadways increased the risk of sudden cardiac death by 6 percent. Among 1,159 cases of fatal coronary heart disease, risk increased 24 percent.

"Regardless of where you live, adopting heart-healthy habits, such as maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, eating nutritious foods, quitting smoking, and managing stress, can help decrease your risk of heart and blood vessel disease," said Hart, who is also an instructor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

"Our next step is to try to determine what specific exposures, such as air pollution, are driving the association between heart disease and major roadway proximity."

The finding is published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.   

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