By Amir Khan

Long-term exposure to fine particle matter from traffic pollution may raise your risk for heart disease, according to preliminary research presented Thursday at the EuroPRevent 2013 meeting in Rome.

Fine particle matter (PM) is a type of pollution characterized by particles that are 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller - approximately 1/100th of the width of a human hair. When inhaled, these particles can have serious health effects, said David Rich, ScD, associate professor of public health at the University of Rochester.

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"What makes these particles special is that unlike larger particles that get stuck in the upper airway, they can make their way down into the deeper recesses in the lungs," he said. "From there, whatever chemicals are glommed on to the particle can cause a variety of illnesses"

Researchers looked at 4,238 people who lived near major roadways in Germany over a five year span. They found that as the amount of fine particle volume the study participants were exposed to increased, their rate of atherosclerosis increased by as much as 20 percent. In addition, for every 300 feet (100 meters) the study participants lived closer to a roadway, their risk for atherosclerosis increased by 10 percent.

Previous research has linked traffic noise to heart disease. Thursday's results, if confirmed, would offer another reason to steer clear of traffic.

"These two major types of traffic emissions help explain the observed associations between living close to high traffic and subclinical atherosclerosis," Hagen Kälsch MD, lead researcher from the West-German Heart Center, said in a statement. "The considerable size of the associations underscores the importance of long-term exposure to air pollution and road traffic noise as risk factors for atherosclerosis."

Fine particle matter and traffic noise raise the risk for heart disease and atherosclerosis by causing an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system, which regulates blood pressure, glucose levels and blood lipid level, the researchers suggested. In addition, people who live near major roadways often report less sleep, the researchers said, which could also raise your risk for heart disease.

Traffic noise and pollution have also been linked to other heart and respiratory conditions, Dr. Rich said.

"They have been linked to heart attack, stroke, arrhythmia and all kinds of respiratory problems, such as asthma," Rich said. "It's also been linked to mortality as well."

He added that for people who live near a roadway, it's important to minimize your exposure to pollutants in any way possible.

"If you live in a place where you're constantly being exposed to a pollutant, being away from cars is important," he said. "You also need to make sure you filter your air."

"Stay Off the Road: Traffic Pollution May Hike Heart Disease Risk" originally appeared on Everyday Health.

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  • 1. Not Smoking

    While not entirely surprising, it doesn't make the message any less important: <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/smo/" target="_hplink">Smoking kills</a>. The habit is considered the No. 1 cause of preventable death and sickness in the U.S. Specifically, <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/smo/" target="_hplink">smoking cigarettes harms the heart</a> in that it damages heart and blood vessel function, thereby upping the risk of atherosclerosis (where your arteries harden), according to the National Institutes of Health.

  • 2. Being Physically Active

    Aerobic exercise is good for the heart in that it makes you take in more oxygen, helps you <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/aerobic-exercise/EP00002/NSECTIONGROUP=2" target="_hplink">keep to a healthy weight</a>, reduces plaque buildup in the arteries and helps to lower blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults are recommended to get at least <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html" target="_hplink">150 minutes of aerobic exercise</a> a week (moderate to intense level), and also do muscle-strengthening at least twice a week.

  • 3. Maintaining Normal Blood Pressure Levels

    <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/bp/bp.htm" target="_hplink">Blood pressure measurements</a> are written in terms of systolic over diastolic. Systolic pressure is "as the heart beats," according to the National Institutes of Health, while diastolic pressure is the relaxation of the heart between heartbeats. A person with a normal blood pressure level has a systolic blood pressure reading of 120 millimeters of mercury or less, and a diastolic blood pressure reading of 80 millimeters of mercury or less. A person is <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/detect/categ.htm" target="_hplink">considered hypertensive</a> (has high blood pressure) when the systolic blood pressure is between 140 and 159, and the diastolic blood pressure is between 90 and 99.

  • 4. Maintaining Normal Blood Glucose Levels

    Having chronically <a href="http://diabetes.webmd.com/blood-glucose" target="_hplink">high levels of glucose</a>, a kind of sugar, in the blood can lead kidney and blood vessel damage, according to WebMD. Insulin, a hormone in the body, is responsible for helping the body's cells to <a href="http://www.medicinenet.com/insulin/article.htm" target="_hplink">use glucose in the blood</a>. However, if the body doesn't have enough insulin or isn't able to use it properly, then <a href="http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hyperglycemia.html" target="_hplink">blood sugar levels may rise</a>, according to the American Diabetes Association. High blood sugar is considered a diabetes complication. Tests to check for high blood glucose can help show whether a person has diabetes, and are used to <a href="http://diabetes.webmd.com/blood-glucose" target="_hplink">monitor someone with diabetes</a> over time, WebMD reported.

  • 5. Maintaining Normal Total Cholesterol Levels

    <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/chol/wyntk.htm" target="_hplink">High cholesterol</a> is a known risk factor for heart disease, because it causes hardening of arteries going to the heart, according to the National Institutes of Health. When part of the heart is deprived of blood, it could trigger a heart attack. The <a href="http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/chol/wyntk.htm" target="_hplink">optimum total cholesterol level</a> is 200 or fewer milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood, while having a total cholesterol level of 200 to 239 milligrams per deciliter is considered borderline high. High total cholesterol is having 240 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood, or more, according to the National Institutes of Health.

  • 6. Having A Healthy Weight

    Calculating your body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height) is a good starting point for knowing if you're at a <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/index.html" target="_hplink">healthy weight</a>, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the BMI chart, having a BMI of 18.5 or below is considered "underweight" and a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered "normal" or healthy weight. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and a BMI of 30 and above is considered obese. <a href="http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/" target="_hplink">Click here to calculate your BMI</a>. <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/index.html" target="_hplink">Waist circumference</a> can also give clues to your weight; a man may be at risk for health problems from obesity if his waist circumference is more than 40 inches, the CDC reported. For a non-pregnant woman, it's more than 35 inches.

  • 7. Eating A Healthy Diet

    While there are obviously differences in opinion depending on who you ask as to what you should or shouldn't eat for optimal health, there are some <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-healthy-diet/NU00196" target="_hplink">heart-healthy nutrition rules</a> that remain true across the board. The Mayo Clinic reports that eating a diet low in cholesterol and "bad" fats (saturated and trans fats), with low-fat proteins (like lean meats, fish and beans), whole grains (with lots of fiber), and little sodium is good for your heart. For more nutrition advice, <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/healthy-diet/NU00200" target="_hplink">click over to the Mayo Clinic</a>.

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