Breathing polluted air is never wise for anyone, but pregnant women may pay an especially unwanted price, a new study found.
“The findings from our study are another piece of evidence that air pollution exposure can affect your health and could affect your baby’s health as well,” said senior study author Noel Mueller.
Mueller’s team found that children exposed to the highest levels of “fine-particulate air pollution” in late pregnancy were 61% more likely to have high blood pressure than those exposed to the least pollution.
He cautioned that this study cannot prove that air pollution is responsible for higher blood pressure in childhood, only that the two are associated.
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“Pregnant women, however, should think about avoiding heavily trafficked areas as a way to avoid more air pollution exposures,” said Mueller, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.
Combustion from cars, oil, coal or wood can create tiny particles – 2.5 microns or less – called PM2.5. These can only be seen under a microscope. When inhaled, these particles can enter the circulatory system and lead to health problems, the researchers said in background notes.
In prior studies, direct exposure to PM2.5 has been tied to high blood pressure in children and adults. This type of air pollution also contributes to illness and premature death worldwide, Mueller said.