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One moment, Abdul was just fine — a middle-aged man enjoying all the thrills in the world —and the next moment, he slumped. On getting to the hospital, it was confirmed that he had succumbed to a heart attack. Simply put, blood and oxygen could no longer reach his heart as his arteries had become blocked by fatty deposits accumulated over time.

A heart attack is common knowledge to many, especially those who have lost their loved ones to it. In fact, according to studies carried out by the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan and a number of other sources, there are about 1.5 million recorded cases of heart attack in Nigeria yearly. Sadly, the issue regarding heart attack that has eluded scientists so far, just like HIV, is a known cure. What scholars have, however, been able to come up with are prevention measures.

The American College of Cardiology acknowledges that air pollution can have adverse effect on human health, though they admit that further research is needed to ascertain if air pollution can trigger a heart attack.

Today, the risks have expanded with fumes from generator sets becoming more prominent, smoke from motor vehicles and other industrial activities contributing to health hazards.

There are still issues like heredity, age and high cholesterol that have been found to cause heart attacks. For instance, American Tom Weiser who suffers Familial Hypercholesterolemia—a genetic disorder that causes high cholesterol—shared his story once. Tom stated how his mother had the same issue and how he had to have an emergency stent situated in his “widow-maker” artery. This was needed because his artery was as good as blocked. Without it, he would have succumbed to a heart attack just like his mother before him.

However, a new study carried out by United States scientists and published in the journal ‘Environmental Health Perspectives,’ reveals that tiny air pollution particles one is exposed to, even if for a short time, can trigger a heart attack.

This study according to its original author, Kai Chen, Ph.D., gives credence to the already popular belief that air pollution is a trigger of a heart attack. Chen reckons that the risk of a heart attack within the first few hours of exposure to carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter is real.

Already, a previous study which was published in March 2012, by the Journal of the American Medical Association, indicated that heart attack could be greatly triggered by the aforementioned air pollutants. To further drive home this point, the study sample used showed that 0.6–4.5% of those heart attacks were caused by exposure to air pollution.

The wise and obvious move on the part of public health officials would be to seek ways of improving the quality of air out there, but in an underdeveloped state like Nigeria, that is easier said than done as these measures have a way of dragging on for years.

Nonetheless, the point, as earlier stated, would be for such patients with heart conditions to check their exposure to air pollution. That means checking the neighbourhoods you choose to live in, the places you visit, especially those with a proven level of air pollution, among other measures.

While the wait for a cure for heart attacks continues, one area, as per the results of studies pointed out in this piece, is to avoid, as best as possible, one’s contact with air pollution, especially for extended periods of time.

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