Ambient air pollution and the risk of ischaemic and haemorrhagic stroke

Lancet Planet Health. 2021 Aug;5(8):e542-e552. doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00145-5.


Stroke is a leading cause of disability and the second most common cause of death worldwide. Increasing evidence suggests that air pollution is an emerging risk factor for stroke. Over the past decades, air pollution levels have continuously increased and are now estimated to be responsible for 14% of all stroke-associated deaths. Interpretation of previous literature is difficult because stroke was usually not distinguished as ischaemic or haemorrhagic, nor by cause. This Review summarises the evidence on the association between air pollution and the different causes of ischaemic stroke and haemorrhagic stroke, to clarify which people are most at risk. The risk for ischaemic stroke is increased after short-term or long-term exposure to air pollution. This effect is most pronounced in people with cardiovascular burden and stroke due to large artery disease or small vessel disease. Short-term exposure to air pollution increases the risk of intracerebral haemorrhage, a subtype of haemorrhagic stroke, whereas the effects of long-term exposure are less clear. Limitations of the current evidence are that studies are prone to misclassification of exposure, often rely on administrative data, and have insufficient clinical detail. In this Review, we provide an outlook on new research opportunities, such as those provided by the decreased levels of air pollution due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution* / adverse effects
  • Air Pollution* / statistics & numerical data
  • COVID-19
  • Hemorrhagic Stroke* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Ischemic Stroke* / epidemiology
  • Risk