Environmental Factors and Your Heart

Learn the impacts of extreme heat and air pollution on your cardiovascular system

A wildfire burns at night, lighting the sky orange

Air Pollution and Heart Health

Air pollution is a significant cardiovascular risk factor, causing approximate15,000 premature deaths in Canada annually. Half of these deaths are from cardiovascular disease or stroke. 

In Canada, transportation, industrial processes and wildfire smoke are the primary pollution sources, particularly harmful suspended particles (PM2.5). Even short-term exposure to high levels of PM2.5 increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, atrial fibrillation and cardiac arrest.

Heat Waves and Heart Health

Extreme heat also poses serious cardiovascular risks. The June 2021 heat dome in BC and Alberta resulted in over 600 deaths, mostly from cardiovascular causes. Heat and air pollution can interact, making things worse. 

Biological Impact of Pollution and Heat

  • Air Pollution: PM2.5 and other pollutants penetrate deep into lung tissue, causing acute increases in heart rate and blood pressure, potentially triggering heart attacks.
  • Extreme Heat: Can lead to heat stroke, causing changes in heart rhythm, inflammation and causing blood clots if untreated.

Who Is Most at Risk?

  • Small children
  • Elderly individuals
  • People with heart, lung, or cerebrovascular disease
  • Pregnant women
  • Outdoor workers
  • People experiencing homelessness
thermometer showing high temperatures set over blue sky
woman drinking water at sunset

Reducing Your Risks

Air Quality:

  • Monitor air quality advisories (AHQI) and follow recommendations. Healthy people should restrict strenuous outdoor exercise when AHQI levels are seven are higher. People with underlying risk should restrict their outdoor activities at lower AHQI levels.
  • When air quality is bad, close your windows and adjust heating and ventilation systems to avoid taking in outdoor area and use HEPA filters in rooms where you will be spending a lot of time. 

Heat Waves:

  •  Stay cool and hydrated and use public air-conditioned spaces when possible. 
  • Check on vulnerable individuals.