This review summarizes the nature of ambient air pollutants, which are either gaseous or particulate of various sizes, the latter determining their penetration into the body, the smallest even translocating from the lung into the systemic circulation. It presents the epidemiological evidence linking air pollution to overall mortality, cardiovascular mortality and myocardial infarction, making the distinction between acute and chronic exposure to the pollutants. It reviews mechanistic investigations that have evaluated the links among exposure to pollutants, thrombosis, pulmonary inflammation, arterial vasoconstriction and heart rate variability. It concludes by attempting to integrate current epidemiological and mechanistic observations into a pathophysiological framework that links ambient air pollution to acute myocardial infarction and cardiovascular mortality.
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