A firefighter covers his eyes as he walks past a burning hillside in Santa Rosa, Calif., Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. Wildfires whipped by powerful winds swept through Northern California, sending residents on a headlong flight to safety through smoke and flames as homes burned. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Wildfire smoke is bad for your lungs, but now scientists say it may be just as bad for your heart.

As rising global temperatures spark more and more intense fires, a new study out of UC San Francisco suggests smoke may rise as an even bigger problem for cardiovascular health in California — especially among its senior citizens.

“We think about smoking cigarettes as being related to heart disease in medical school,” said Zachary Wettstein, a graduating medical student at UC San Francisco and lead author of the study. “But it’s not a connection physicians typically make with air pollution in general.”

The research published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association comes as Californians are coping with some of the deadliest and destructive wildfire seasons in state history — and it may change how doctors think about wildfire smoke and heart health.

According to the study, people exposed to wildfire smoke are placed at higher short-term risk for conditions like heart failure, ischemic heart disease and stroke. The denser the smoke, the higher the risk. This effect is seen across all adults, but is most dramatic among those age 65 and older.

Wettstein and his colleagues reached their conclusion by looking at how many people checked into emergency rooms with heart complaints over the 2015 fire season. That year, more than 800,000 acres of northern and central California went up in flames and sent plumes of smoke billowing over the state. The researchers connected the dots between when and where the fires took place, how dense the smoke was each day, and how many people wound up in the ER with heart conditions afterwards.

The data showed that people made the most trips to the ER following days with the densest smoke, both for respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. Fewer checked in for either complaint on medium smoke days, and fewer than that on light smoke days. On days of dense smoke, the rate at which older adults visited the ER for heart attacks went up 42 percent.

Scientists have a few competing theories as to how smoke exposure might contribute to heart disease. Wildfire smoke contains bits of particulate matter, and the more there are, the denser the smoke.

“What we think happens is that you breathe in the particles, they start an inflammation process in the lungs, and that causes inflammation around the body and can trigger a cardiovascular disease event,” …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Latest News


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Wildfire smoke hurts heart, not just lungs, new study finds

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