Anne-Helen Harding, Ph.D., of Britain’s Health and Safety Laboratory, headed up a study of British workers published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The study findings show that occupational exposure to asbestos may be linked to a risk of heart disease and stroke.
These 2012 results have since been corroborated by other studies. This is troubling news because asbestos workers already have to face the fact that asbestos exposure can cause various cancers and it’s discouraging to add heart disease and stroke to the list.
Study linking asbestos exposure to heart disease and stroke
The British study involved nearly 100,000 workers exposed to asbestos from 1971 to 2005. Many of them had occupations that involved the removal of asbestos. The researchers compared the number of deaths from heart attacks and strokes among these workers against the standard mortality ratios for the general population.
During the study period, over 1,000 deaths occurred due to stroke and over 4,000 due to heart attacks. Compared to the general population, men with asbestos exposure were found to be 39% more like to die from heart disease and 63% more like to die from a stroke. The cardiovascular risks for women, who were mostly employed in manufacturing jobs where asbestos was present, were even higher than that for men.
The researchers also saw a correlation between the length of time workers were exposed to asbestos and their likelihood of developing a reduced supply of blood in the heart muscle (ischemic heart disease).
Similar studies done before this one were not able to show the connection because there wasn’t much information about whether workers smoked or not. With this study, smoking was taken into account.
There is increasing evidence that inflammatory processes are involved in the development of cardiovascular disease. Inhaling asbestos has been established to cause inflammation and so it makes sense that there could be a link.
Corroboration from other studies
Another meta-analysis published in 2015 looked at sixteen different studies. It was found that exposure to asbestos did increase the risk of cardiovascular-related diseases in workers.
It was concluded that persistent inflammatory reaction induced by inhaled asbestos fibers in lung tissues might be to blame. Inflammatory mediators could enter the blood vessels and transfer to the heart. Impaired lung function could also lead to episodes of hypoxemia and increase the risk of mortality from cardiovascular-related diseases.
Death figures related to asbestos exposure
Asbestos has become one of the leading causes of death among occupational workers in the world. However, statistics can be unreliable for various reasons, one being that symptoms of disease related to asbestos exposure typically take decades to appear.
Workers exposed to asbestos in the 1970s may have only started noticing symptoms recently, such as a persistent cough or difficulty breathing. The early symptoms of mesothelioma often mimic those of other diseases, so it spreads before it is detected and this is why it has a poor prognosis.
Many people with diseases directly related to asbestos exposure may finally die of stroke, cardiac arrest or a pulmonary embolism. The final anatomical cause of death may, in fact, be the result of underlying problems caused by long term asbestos exposure.
Misdiagnose can often happen with asbestos-related diseases and this is often especially true when it comes to lung disorders. An individual may be diagnosed with bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema, fibrosis or tuberculosis.
Despite more stringent regulations in place to control occupational exposure to asbestos, it’s apparent that many people are still dying from asbestos-related diseases, including heart disease and stroke.