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Heart Attack Mortality More Likely Near Major Roadway

Oct 13, 2014 10:46 PM EDT

Aside from being noisy, living near a major road has one, possibly fatal, setback. New research has found that for women living on a Main Street may increase their risk of a sudden heart attack.

You would most likely pin a heart attack on lifestyle choices, such as smoking, drinking or diet, but environmental factors, too, can have fatal effects.

"It's important for healthcare providers to recognize that environmental exposures may be under-appreciated risk factors for diseases such as sudden cardiac death and fatal coronary heart disease," Jaime E. Hart, Sc.D., study lead author, said in a statement. "On a population level, living near a major roadway was as important a risk factor as smoking, diet or obesity."

Researchers already knew that main highways raised the risk of a cardiac arrest itself, but this is the first study to find that this proximity may be a risk factor to sudden cardiac death. It's possible, the researchers note, that this association is related to increased air pollution near major road areas.

According to the study, of the 107,130 women participants, there were 523 cases of sudden cardiac death. For those living within 50 meters (164 feet) of a major road, their risk amplified by 38 percent, compared to living at least 500 meters (.3 miles) away.

What's more, the results indicate that the closer you are to a main road, the greater chance a woman has of dying from a heart attack. Each 100 meters (328 feet) closer to roadways was associated with a six percent increased risk.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, as of 2009, about 35 million people in the United States lived within 300 meters (984 feet) of a major road in 2009 - and that number's expected to only go up.

Researchers are quick to note that further study is needed to establish a cause-and-effect relationship, especially considering the lack of diversity in the study. Most female participants were middle-age to elderly, white and of middle- to upper-socioeconomic class.

"Regardless of where you live, adopting heart-healthy habits, such as maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, eating nutritious foods, quitting smoking, and managing stress, can help decrease your risk of heart and blood vessel disease," added Hart.

The findings were published in the journal Circulation.

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