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Circulation. 2001 Aug 28;104(9):986-91.

Association of heart rate variability with occupational and environmental exposure to particulate air pollution.

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Department of Environmental Health, Occupational Health Program, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



Airborne particulate matter has been linked to excess morbidity and mortality. Recent attention has focused on the effects of particulate exposure on cardiac autonomic control. Inhaled particulates may affect the autonomic nervous system either directly, by eliciting a sympathetic stress response, or indirectly, through inflammatory cytokines produced in the lungs and released into the circulation.


This longitudinal study examined the association of particulates </=2.5 microm in diameter (PM(2.5)) with heart rate variability (HRV) in an occupational cohort (N=40). Continuous monitoring of exposure and HR was performed during and away from work. PM(2.5) levels were higher than ambient levels typically reported in Boston, 0.167+/-3.205 mg/m(3) (geometric mean+/-geometric SD). We found a 2.66% decrease (95% CI, -3.75% to -1.58%) in the 5-minute SD of normal RR intervals (SDNN) for every 1 mg/m(3) increase in the 4-hour moving PM(2.5) average and a 1.02% increase (95% CI, 0.59% to 1.46%) in HR after adjusting for potential confounding factors. The decrease in SDNN became larger as the averaging interval increased.


Workers experienced altered cardiac autonomic control after exposure to occupational and environmental PM(2.5). There appears to be either a long-acting (several hours) and a short-acting (several minutes) component to the mechanism of action that may be related to the production of cytokines and the sympathetic stress response, respectively, or a cumulative effect that begins shortly after exposure begins. The clinical significance of these effects in a healthy working population is unclear.

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