Exposure to fine particles in the air has been linked to a greater risk of developing multiple serious diseases, new research has indicated.

While there is already lots of evidence of air pollution’s link to individual diseases, there was limited research into its association with multiple chronic conditions.

The new study, by Kai Hu of the University of St Andrews and colleagues, set out to explore the link between exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and the development of multimorbidity.

The team examined data from just over 19,000 people aged 45 to 85 from cities across China, over the period 2011 to 2015. They also studied satellite data on PM2.5 over a 15-year period.

They found that: “Both lower and higher historical PM2.5 exposure is associated with faster multimorbidity accumulation. However, higher exposure to PM2.5 is associated with a higher risk of developing cardio-metabolic and respiratory multimorbidity (dominated by lung disease), whereas lower PM2.5 exposure is associated with a higher likelihood of musculoskeletal multimorbidity.”

When looking at the data, three distinct groups of multiple chronic conditions became apparent – respiratory, musculoskeletal and cardio-metabolic – along with healthy clusters.

An increase in exposure to PM2.5 over 15 years was linked to:

  • A 2.4% increased chance of belonging to the respiratory group
  • A 1.5% increased chance of belonging to the musculoskeletal group
  • A 3.3% increased chance of belonging to the cardio-metabolic group.

Read the study in full in the journal PLOS Global Public Health.

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