Both high arterial blood pressure (BP) and elevated levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution have been associated with an increased risk for several cardiovascular (CV) diseases, including stroke, heart failure, and myocardial infarction. Given that PM2.5 and high BP are each independently leading risk factors for premature mortality worldwide, a potential relationship between these factors would have tremendous public health repercussions. Therefore, the aim of this review is to summarize recent evidence linking air pollution and BP. Epidemiological findings demonstrate that particulate pollutants cause significant increases in BP parameters in relation to both short and long-term exposures, with robust evidence for exposures to PM2.5. Moreover, recent epidemiological studies suggest a positive association between residence within regions with higher levels of ambient PM and an increased incidence and prevalence of overt hypertension. Studies provide consistent results that elevated concentrations of pollutants increase hospital admissions and/or emergency visits for hypertensive disorders and also support that PM levels increases BP in vulnerable subsets of individuals (pregnant women, high CV risk individuals). In this context, PM-mediated BP elevations may be an important pathway which acts as a potential triggering factor for acute CV events. Mechanistic evidence illustrates plausible pathways by which acute and chronic exposures to air pollutants might disrupt hemodynamic balance favoring vasoconstriction, including autonomic imbalance and augmented release of various pro-oxidative, inflammatory and/or hemodynamically-active mediators. Together these responses may underlie PM-induced BP elevations; however, full details regarding the responsible mechanisms require further studies. As a consequence of the ubiquity of air pollution, even a small effect on raising BP and/or the prevalence of hypertension, i.e. the major risk factor for mortality and morbidity worldwide, would have enormous global public health implications.
Keywords: Air pollution, particulate matter, blood pressure, hypertension, cardiovascular risk, public health, epidemiology, endothelial dysfunction.
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