Photo of Car Exhaust FumesA new study published in the American Heart Association’s Hypertension Journal shows a link between air pollution and high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a major risk for both coronary heart disease, which kills more than 370,000 people annually, and hypertension which affects more than three million people in the U.S.

According to a review of 17 studies, both short and long-term exposure to air pollution created by the burning fossil fuels and automobile exhaust is associated with high blood pressure. The study included 108,000 people with high blood pressure and 220,000 people without the condition.

“In our analysis of 17 previously published studies we discovered a significant risk of developing high blood pressure due to exposure to air pollution,” said senior author Tao Liu of the Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Guangzhou, China.

“People should limit their exposure on days with higher air pollution levels, especially for those with high blood pressure, even very short term exposure can aggravate their conditions.”

The study found that short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide that comes from burning fossil fuels were associated with high blood pressure risk, as well as long-term exposure to nitrogen-oxide, which is emitted by power plants and automobile exhaust.

While the study does show a link between air pollution and high blood pressure, it doesn’t prove that it is the exact cause. Additional studies do need to be performed in order to establish a true causal relationship between these two factors.

“Without a clear mechanism we cannot conclude that pollution ’causes’ hypertension,” said Dr. Gaetano Santulli of Columbia University Medical Center in New York, who was not part of the new study. “However, we should recall (going back to 1954) that epidemiological evaluations provided strong statistical support in linking cigarette smoking and cancer.”

It’s important to note that eating healthy, quitting smoking, reducing sodium and sugar intake, and exercising regularly can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Also, adding an air cleaner for smoke inside the home can also help remove harmful airborne contaminants that may lead to this disease.