Particulate matter increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases

Particulate matter increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases

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Health damage caused by fine dust: danger to the heart and blood vessels

According to experts, particulate matter is the air pollutant with the most massive impact on our health. The bad air not only damages the lungs, but also our heart health. Unfortunately, the risk to the heart and blood vessels is still underestimated.

As the German Heart Foundation reports in a recent release, air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter are considered to be particularly harmful to health. At least since the public discussions about the diesel driving bans and the shutdown of lignite-fired power plants, many people have been aware of nitrogen oxide from combustion engines and coal firing systems (including oil, gas, waste) as the cause of inflammatory processes that are associated with an increase in cardiovascular diseases . But: "Fine dust is the air pollutant with the most massive effects on our health," writes the BUND.

Health risk is still underestimated

Fine dust is not only the bigger one, but above all "the still underestimated health risk", emphasizes the cardiologist and pharmacologist Prof. Dr. med. Thomas Meinertz in the current issue of HERZ today, the magazine of the German Heart Foundation. "The greater the concentration of fine dust in the air we breathe, the more likely cardiovascular diseases are."

A study published in the journal "European Heart Journal" confirmed in 2019 that particulate matter is just as much a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases as the classic factors, i.e. high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes and high LDL cholesterol.

What makes fine dust a risk to the heart and blood vessels

According to the German Heart Foundation, the risk of cardiovascular disease increases because fine dust, in particular ultrafine dust with a particle size of less than 0.1 micrometer (= size of a virus), immediately enters the bloodstream after inhalation through the pulmonary epithelium and from there into the vessel wall.

"This triggers chronic inflammatory processes and thus favors atherosclerosis. In people who are chronically exposed to air pollution, the most important diseases in the vessels that supply the heart and brain can prematurely break out. The consequences are heart attacks and strokes, ”explains Prof. Meinertz.

Older patients in particular, with heart and lung diseases, should spend very little time outside the home if there is high air pollution. The Federal Environment Agency and scientists from the National Academy Leopoldina also see the risk potential of fine dust for health. They consider the fine dust limit values ​​to be too lax and see a lowering of the fine dust limit values ​​and a "sustainable turnaround" as necessary.

The German Heart Foundation also considers stricter limits in terms of preventive health protection to be absolutely necessary. “Clean air is a valuable asset: the cleaner the air, the less often people suffer from strokes, cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer or respiratory problems. Numerous studies have shown this. Determined political action is now necessary, ”said the heart foundation expert.

Nine million premature deaths

Particulate matter particles are divided into groups according to their size, the smaller the particles, the further they can penetrate into the body: Particles smaller than ten micrometers (PM 10) mostly remain in the upper respiratory tract; Particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM 2.5) reach the alveoli. Ultrafine particles (ultrafine dust) with a diameter of less than 0.1 micron can enter the bloodstream.

The World Health Organization (WHO) specifies a limit of ten micrograms of fine dust (particle size 2.5) per cubic meter of air. Germany - like the entire European Union - is with an annual limit of 25 micrograms (PM 2.5) or 40 micrograms (PM 10) per cubic meter of air, but significantly above the WHO recommendation.

A fine dust concentration of more than ten micrograms per cubic meter of air statistically shortens the average life expectancy by around one year, according to study results from the WHO's Global Burden of Disease project (2004). Worldwide, the trade magazine "Lancet" (2017) estimates that air pollution is responsible for around nine million premature deaths.

In Germany, 66,000 people die prematurely every year due to fine dust pollution (PM2.5), reports the BUND, which refers to figures from the European Environment Agency. In addition to cardiovascular diseases, particulate matter can also cause asthma, allergies and respiratory diseases.

“Even in very low concentrations, fine dust is harmful to health and there is no threshold below which there is no health risk. The frequency and intensity of the damage to health increases linearly with the concentration of fine dust in the air we breathe, ”writes the BUND. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Deutsche Herzstiftung: Fine dust: Underestimated risk to the heart and blood vessels, (accessed: August 14, 2019), Deutsche Herzstiftung
  • BUND: Fine dust - a danger to health and the climate, (access: August 14, 2019), BUND
  • European Heart Journal: Cardiovascular disease burden from ambient air pollution in Europe reassessed using novel hazard ratio functions, (accessed: 14.08.2019), European Heart Journal

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