Air pollution increases the risk of stroke

24 March 2015        

Air pollution levels in UK

New research from the University of Edinburgh, that we funded, has shown that recent exposure to air pollution increases the risk of hospitalisation or death from stroke. 

The research, published today in the British Medical Journal, collected data from across six million strokes around the world and showed short-term exposure to four different types of pollution increased the risk of hospitalisation or death from stroke in the following week. 

Stroke is a leading cause of disability worldwide and causes more than 40,000 deaths in the UK each year.

Despite these findings, a nation-wide poll revealed that whilst almost nine in ten (89%) people knew that air pollution can worsen asthma, less than two in ten were aware that air pollution increase their risk of stroke (17%). 

A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off, causing your brain cells to become damaged or die.  As a leading independent funder of heart and circulatory research in Europe, the BHF is currently funding £16 million of stroke research.

What is the Government doing about this?

The research highlights the urgency for the Government to bring air pollution in line with current EU limits to help reduce the nation’s risk of developing heart and circulatory conditions. 

The UK is currently breaching EU limits in 38 of 43 air quality zones and is breaking EU law. It is predicted that the zones that are currently above legal limits will not start complying until 2020, and later than 2030 in the worst cases (London, Leeds, and Birmingham).

Air pollution is a blight on public health.

Simon Gillespie
Our Chief Executive

Simon Gillespie, our Chief Executive said: “This new research only compounds what we already know, that air pollution is a blight on public health. We urge the UK Government, ahead of the Supreme Court ruling next month, to do all that is possible, as quickly as possible, to protect us all from unnecessary risk of death or serious illness from air pollution. Every day’s delay puts thousands more people at risk.”

What can I do to protect myself?

This week, we have launched a new fact sheet that explains the increased risk of air pollution to those already suffering with heart and circulatory diseases, and outlines ways that people can reduce their exposure. 

You can reduce your exposure by: 

• Being aware of the air pollution levels in your area, it's easy to find on the Government’s UK-AIR website.  

• Walking or cycling short distances, away from busy roads.

• Car share with friends or family. 

Find out more about how air pollution can affect you health.