Chronic rheumatic heart disease (RHD) remains a globally important cause of heart disease. The reasons for the continuing high prevalence of this disease are obscure, but it may have its origins in the poor social and economic conditions with which the disease has been consistently and strongly linked. Mortality studies from the UK have suggested the importance of adverse environmental factors in early life; these studies demonstrated specific geographical associations between high rates of chest infection during infancy and subsequent RHD. They raised the possibility that early air pollution, which is known to be strongly linked with chest infection during infancy, may predispose to RHD.Methods:
We related estimates of air pollution and social conditions developed by Daly in 1951-52 for 78 urban areas in England and Wales to their subsequent RHD mortality rates at ages 35-74 in men and women during 1993-2012.Results:
There were strong relationships between domestic air pollution and RHD [relative risk per standard deviation (SD) increase in pollution 1.168, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.128 to 1.210, P < 0.001). Inclusion of published data on social class, education, crowding and population density in multiple regression analyses showed that the air pollution association was independent of these; only overcrowding was separately linked with RHD.Conclusions:
We present the first evidence of an association between air pollution in early life and RHD. Although there are several limitations to this study, the strength and consistency of the results, together with their biological plausibility, suggest a causal link. This deserves attention because it may have important consequences for the control of RHD in resource-poor countries where widespread use of biomass fuels and domestic pollution remain a problem.