Cerebrovascular and ischaemic heart disease (IHD) mortality would appear to be significantly higher among workers exposed to asbestos as part of their job than in the general population, UK research has found.
Women seem to be at greater risk than men, the research published online in Occupational and Environmental Medicine indicates, and there is some evidence that the longer the duration of exposure to asbestos, the greater the likelihood of dying from heart disease, even after taking account of smoking.
It is well known that asbestos workers are already prone to serious lung disease, such as mesothelioma and asbestosis, as a direct result of their exposure to asbestos fibres.
The researchers set out to explore the impact of asbestos as an inflammatory agent on the risk of heart disease and stroke, given that inflammation is now known to have a role in cardiovascular disease.
The authors analysed cause of death among just under 100,000 asbestos workers taking part in regular voluntary health monitoring and answering questions on levels of exposure for the Asbestos Workers Survey.
The average monitoring period was 19 years, with the average age on the date of the first medical examination being 35.
The research team compared the number of deaths from stroke and heart attacks among these workers between 1971 and 2005 against the number that would be expected to occur in the general population.
During the study period, 15,557 people died from all causes. Stroke accounted for just over 1,000 deaths, while heart disease accounted for another 4,000.
Based on the standardised mortality ratios, asbestos workers were significantly more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than the general population.
Male asbestos workers were 63 per cent more likely to die of a stroke and 39 per cent more likely to die of heart disease. The corresponding figures for women were, respectively, 100 per cent and 89 per cent.
Occup Environ Med doi:10.1136/oemed-2011-100313.