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Air Pollution Increases Blood Clot Risk

You know that air pollution and smog is bad for the environment and partly responsible for the disappearing ozone layer, but did you also know that it can be bad for your health? There is a growing amount of evidence that air pollution and smog have many effects on the human body that were not suspected until recently. One such effect is an increased risk for blood clots. Keep reading for more information on this dangerous – and even deadly – connection.

It seems obvious that air tainted with carbon and other small particles would have a negative effect on the way human lungs work and process oxygen. But blood clots? It appears there is a connection there as well.

In researching the exact effects of air pollution on lungs using laboratory mice, several researchers discovered a link to increased blood clots.  The particles in the experiments were introduced into the lungs of the mice, which immediately showed signs of irritation and inflammation.  A by-product of this reaction in the mice to the particles was to produce a natural chemical in the body that promotes blood thickening and makes clotting much easier.  At first it was considered localized to the lungs, but further experiments spurred a belief that it eventually will spread to the entire body after repeated exposure. 

Studies were started with human data analyzing limited populations within traditionally polluted urban areas.  Medical histories were checked to measure the occurrence of blood clots over time for individuals who lived in those areas and then compared to individuals from less polluted climates nearby.  The research produced preliminary data that suggests a direct link to higher risk of blood clots forming in the patients living in the polluted areas. 

The blood clots being investigated are similar in nature to those seen on extended airline flights where passengers are immobile for many hours at a time.  The lack of movement allows some blood to slow and pool in the lower extremities.  The pooled blood may form a clot in some circumstances and create a potentially dangerous situation.  The clot may dissipate after movement is resumed or it could detach intact in the blood stream and enter one of the major organs such as the lungs, heart, or brain. 

The clot could then cause catastrophic damage to any of these vital organs leading to severe injury or death in a relatively short time.  If medical attention is received quickly the clot may often be destroyed using blood thinners, but rapid medical attention is not always available. 

The full effects and the amount of exposure to specific particles is the subject of further research and conclusive results are several years away.  The warning from these studies simply adds to other recognized reasons to avoid air pollution as much as possible.  But, it appears that the green movement to improve our air quality due to potential environmental consequences just got more ammunition for its fight. 

One technique that may be adopted after further consideration (and is currently recommended for heart attack patients post-recovery) is a low dose of aspirin daily to gently thin the blood.  It is unclear if this is effective for the air pollution effects, but may be a starting point for preventative treatment in high-risk areas. 

In the meantime, you can add to the effort to keep the air clean – and your blood flowing properly – by doing your part in the “green” effort. Your health and your planet will thank you!

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