Breathing Polluted Air Harms Pregnant Women and Fetus: Study

First Posted: Feb 14, 2014 06:26 AM EST

Exposure to polluted air during pregnancy increases risk of developing hypertension and pre-eclampsia in women, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Florida compared data of more than 22,000 women in Florida who gave birth between 2004 and 2005 with the estimates of air pollutions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The study excluded women with prior complication in pregnancy or those who had given birth to premature babies or even those already diagnosed with chronic hypertension. They measured the levels of several harmful pollutants these women were exposed to. Nearly 4.7 percent of the participants developed hypertension disorders during pregnancy.

The study is published in the journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Pollutants are made of fine and coarse particles that exist in the form of dusts, acids, metals and particles. When these are released from forest fires and industrial exhausts, they react with the air to form harmful gases like carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide,etc. Exposure to these pollutants and also cigarette smoke during pregnancy can cause hypertension disorders like gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, which can lead to eclampsia that is known to affect 10 percent of pregnancies.

Xiaohui Xu, study author and assistant professor of Epidemiology in the college of Public health and Health professions mentioned in a statement, "Fetal development is very sensitive to environmental factors. That is why we wanted to do this research. Hypertension (high blood pressure), in particular, is associated with increased morbidity and mortality, causing a lot of problems for the mother and fetus, including preterm delivery."

He  said that exposure to air pollutants during the first two trimesters of the pregnancy increases the risks of developing one of these conditions.  But the study could not help determine if exposure to pollutants during early or later stages in pregnancy increases risks of hypertension disorder and hence, it requires further research.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences funded the research.

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