Living near major roads increases heart attack risk

Night traffic speeds through the Gangnam district of Seoul, South Korea.

Living near main roads can increase the risk of cardiac arrest and heart disease in women, according to new research published in the American Heart Association Journal.

Research has previously exposed a link between living near traffic and a risk of coronary heart disease, but this is the first time proximity to heavily trafficked roads has been linked to a risk of "sudden cardiac death".

The study involved analysing data from 107,130 women, who were predominantly white and over 60. After calculating each subject's living distance from a major road, and taking into account a large number of other factors including diet, physical activity and cigarette smoking, a number of suprising results were found.

Firstly, in 523 cases of sudden cardiac death, living within 50 metres of a major road had increased the risk of a fatality by a staggering 38 per cent, compared to living at least 500m away.

For each 100m closer to a major road that the women lived, the risk of them suffering sudden cardiac death went up by six per cent.

Finally, living in close proximity to a main road increased the risk of fatal coronary heart disease by 24 per cent in 1,159 cases.

"It's important for healthcare providers to recognise 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, Sc.D., study lead author and instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts.

"On a population level, living near a major roadway was as important a risk factor as smoking, diet or obesity."

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that around 35 million Americans lived within 300m of a main road in 2009, with the number quickly growing both in the USA and abroad.

"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," continued Hart.