Wildfire smoke hurts the heart, too, according to study

smoke from wildfireMost people are aware that wildfire smoke can seriously harm your lungs. A study from UC San Francisco also finds that the smoke poses a real problem for your heart.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, discovered that people exposed to wildfire smoke are at higher short-term risk for conditions that include heart failure, ischemic heart disease and stroke.

Zachary Wettstein, a graduating medical student at UC San Francisco and lead author of the study, said in a recent article, “We think about smoking cigarettes as being related to heart disease in medical school, but it’s not a connection physicians typically make with air pollution in general.”

Wettstein and his fellow researchers looked at how many people went to the emergency room with heart-related complaints during the 2015 fire season. It was an especially bad year with more than 800,000 acres scorched in northern and central California. On days when the smoke was most dense, the rate at which older adults visited the ER rose 42 percent.

This study also has implications for government policy, said Wayne Cascio, lab director at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and coauthor of the study.

“To address the public health angle, officials may have to revamp policies surrounding forest management and fire prevention efforts,” Cascio said.

Previous reports, including this one from the Union of Concerned Scientists, equated breathing wildfire smoke with smoking a couple of packs of cigarettes every few hours.

Just another reason to be extra careful when recreating in Oregon’s forests during the hot, dry season. Sign up to get more updates from Oregon Forests Forever.