Environmental disasters are difficult for anyone. For people with cardiovascular disease, they can be particularly risky.
As wildfire and hurricane seasons kick into high gear, experts urge extra caution for people who’ve had a heart attack or stroke or have other forms of cardiovascular disease.
Research shows wildfire smoke has a significant impact not just on the respiratory system, but on cardiovascular health as well.
“The inhaled small particulate matter from smoke can cause inflammatory effects as well as a cardiovascular response to the stress, including changes in the blood vessels and increased heart rate and blood pressure,” says Dr. Celina Yong, director of interventional cardiology at Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System in California. “For people with underlying heart disease, this can trigger exacerbation of existing problems.”
An overview published last year in the American Heart Association journal Circulation described wildfire smoke as “a rapidly growing threat to global cardiovascular health” and said that even short-term exposure can lead to heart attacks, strokes or cardiovascular-related deaths.
Complicating matters is the unpredictable nature of wildfires. In early June, U.S. residents in the Northeast and Midwest were caught off guard when an orange-gray fog of smoke blew down from Canada, where dozens of wildfires were burning.
What you can do to protect yourself
Still, there are steps you can take to prepare.
People with cardiovascular disease should check air quality reports every day when there is a concern for air pollution, says Yong, also an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University. “Pay attention to the instructions for sensitive individuals regarding whether it’s safe to go outdoors.” One example is AirNow from the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies that provides real-time air quality index readings.
Yong also recommends keeping indoor areas of the home closed off from outside air and using a high-efficiency air filter in their air conditioning system or a portable indoor air filter if possible.
To help stay safe when outdoors, a high-quality mask, such as an N95 mask, can offer some protection from