Air pollution major contributor to stroke burden

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New Zealand – New research has uncovered that air pollution contributes to around one-third of stroke burden worldwide. The startling findings, published recently in The Lancet Neurology, are the result of work led by Professor Valery Feigin, director of AUT University’s National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neurosciences.

The research, which investigated stroke risk factor trends between 1990–2013, also found that more than 90% of the global burden of stroke is linked to modifiable risk factors – primarily behavioural risk factors such as smoking, poor diet and low physical activity. The authors estimate that controlling these risk factors could prevent about three-quarters of all disabilities associated with stroke.

The study is the first to analyse a range of modifiable risk factors for stroke in such detail, and identified that environmental and household air pollution is among the top ten contributors to stroke burden in the world. Professor Feigin says the extent of air pollution’s impact was surprising. “A striking finding of our study was the unexpectedly high proportion of stroke burden attributable to environmental air pollution, especially in developing countries. Overall, the study suggests that stroke is largely a disease caused by lifestyle risk factors,” he says.

The world’s ten leading risk factors for stroke were found to be high blood pressure, a diet low in fruit, high body mass index (BMI), a diet high in sodium, smoking, a diet low in vegetables, environmental air pollution, household pollution from solid fuels, a diet low in whole grains, and high blood sugar.

Approximately 15 million people suffer a stroke each year. Of these, nearly six million die and five million are left with permanent disability such as loss of vision, loss of speech, paralysis and confusion.

“Controlling risk factors could significantly reduce the devastating impact of stroke,” says Professor Feigin. “We have an urgent need to improve primary prevention. These findings could make an important contribution to development of more effective public health programmes and policies by national governments and international agencies,” he concluded.