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Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Mar;118(3):324-30. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0901003. Epub 2009 Nov 18.

Reduction in heart rate variability with traffic and air pollution in patients with coronary artery disease.

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Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA.



Ambient particulate pollution and traffic have been linked to myocardial infarction and cardiac death risk. Possible mechanisms include autonomic cardiac dysfunction.


In a repeated-measures study of 46 patients 43-75 years of age, we investigated associations of central-site ambient particulate pollution, including black carbon (BC) (a marker for regional and local traffic), and report of traffic exposure with changes in half-hourly averaged heart rate variability (HRV), a marker of autonomic function measured by 24-hr Holter electrocardiogram monitoring. Each patient was observed up to four times within 1 year after a percutaneous intervention for myocardial infarction, acute coronary syndrome without infarction, or stable coronary artery disease (4,955 half-hour observations). For each half-hour period, diary data defined whether the patient was home or not home, or in traffic.


A decrease in high frequency (HF; an HRV marker of vagal tone) of 16.4% [95% confidence interval (CI), 20.7 to 11.8%] was associated with an interquartile range of 0.3-microg/m3 increase in prior 5-day averaged ambient BC. Decreases in HF were independently associated both with the previous 2-hr averaged BC (10.4%; 95% CI, 15.4 to 5.2%) and with being in traffic in the previous 2 hr (38.5%; 95% CI, 57.4 to 11.1%). We also observed independent responses for particulate air matter with aerodynamic diameter < or = 2.5 microm and for gases (ozone or nitrogen dioxide).


After hospitalization for coronary artery disease, both particulate pollution and being in traffic, a marker of stress and pollution, were associated with decreased HRV.

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