The conference "Climate change, air pollution and health" was held at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The data presented highlighted that air pollution is a major, under-recognized and modifiable risk factor for stroke and heart disease. Air pollution causes 7.6% of all deaths making it the fifth cause of death globally, and this figure is expected to increase by 50% by 2050. Particulate matter causes endothelial dysfunction and induces thrombosis by altering reactive oxygen species, nitric oxide, insulin resistance, and lipid levels. Thirty-three articles published since 2002 were reviewed to assess the relation between air pollution and stroke with age, geographical location, particulate and gaseous matter type, duration of exposure, previous stroke, and comorbidities. It remains to be defined if air pollution has pathophysiological effects that preferentially predispose individuals to ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke. There is ample evidence showing an association between acute and chronic exposure to PM2.5 or gaseous pollutants with stroke. This potentially avoidable scenario and its dramatic consequences are heavily under-recognized by health professionals and the wider public. Preventive measures in people at high vascular risk are warranted. Procrastination in implementing efforts to stop the current worldwide course of worsening air pollution is the seed of a potential global health catastrophe.
Keywords: Air pollution; cardiovascular disease; climate change; stroke.