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Coffee, sex, smog can trigger heart attack

Analysis of data about potential triggers for a heart attack finds that common substances and everyday activities like - coffee, alcohol and sex - can all help spur an attack.

Coffee, sex, smog can trigger heart attack

Analysis of data about potential triggers for a heart attack finds that common substances and everyday activities like - coffee, alcohol and sex - can all help spur an attack.

Researchers studied 36 studies examining environmental triggers for heart attacks. The researchers looked for common threads that could establish how these factors might rank in risk.

In terms of risk, it was found that air pollution increased a person's risk of having a heart attack by nearly 5 percent. Because so many people are exposed to dirty air, air pollution while stuck in traffic topped the list of potential heart attack triggers, with the researchers pegging 7.4 percent of heart attacks to smog. But coffee was also linked to 5 percent of attacks, and alcohol to another 5 percent. Cocaine use increased the chances for heart attack 23 times. However, because only a small number of people in the population are exposed to cocaine, while hundreds of millions are exposed to air pollution daily, air pollution was estimated to cause more heart attacks across the population than cocaine. Among everyday activities, exerting yourself physically was linked to 6.2 percent of heart attacks, indulging in a heavy meal was estimated to trigger 2.7 percent, and sex was linked to 2.2 percent. The researchers stressed that the risk for heart attack from any one of these factors to a particular person at any given time is extremely small. But spread out over the population, they can add up. For example, air pollution is a minor trigger for heart attacks, but since so many people are exposed to smog, it triggers many more heart attacks than other more potent triggers, such as alcohol and cocaine.

Although exposure to secondhand smoke was not included in the analysis, the effects are probably of the same magnitude as air pollution. Where bans on smoking in public places exist, the rate of heart attacks has dropped an average of 17 percent.

Based on these findings, improvement in air quality and reduction in traffic may not just help the environment and increase quality of life, but also substantially reduce the incidence of heart attack.
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