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Cardiovascular Damage by Airborne Particles: Are Diabetics More Susceptible?

Zanobetti, Antonella; Schwartz, Joel

BRIEF REPORT
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Background. Convincing evidence now exists that particulate air pollution exacerbates heart and lung disease, leading to increased morbidity and mortality. The populations particularly susceptible to these exposures are still unclear. Recent work on potential mechanisms of action of particulate air pollution point to pathways also influenced by diabetes.

Methods. We examined effect modification by concurrent diagnosis of diabetes overall and by age group in a hierarchical model for four U.S. cities. In the first stage, separate Poisson regressions were fit in each city and within each stratum of age and diabetes. In the second stage, the estimated effect size for PM10 (particulate air matter with aerodynamic diameter less than 10 microns) within city and strata was regressed against the stratification variables, allowing for a random effect. We used Medicare data for Chicago, IL, Detroit, MI, Pittsburgh, PA, and Seattle, WA, for the years 1988–1994.

Results. We found that diabetics have double the risk of a PM10-associated cardiovascular admission compared with nondiabetics. We also found that persons 75 years of age and older had higher risk, and that the interaction between the two categories (diabetes and age) was less than additive. If the latter is confirmed, it may represent a survivor effect among diabetes, enhanced susceptibility among nondiabetics, or both.

Conclusions. We conclude that diabetics are a population that is particularly susceptible to cardiovascular damage by airborne particles.

From the Environmental Epidemiology program, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA.

Address correspondence to: Antonella Zanobetti, Department of Environmental Health, Environmental Epidemiology Program, Harvard School of Public Health, 665 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA, 02115; azanobet@hsph.harvard.edu

This study was supported by Environmental Protection Agency Grant R827353.

Submitted 21 August 2001; final version accepted 16 April 2002.

In dozens of studies across the world, particulate air pollution has been associated with increases in daily deaths and hospital admissions. 1,2 Other studies have shown that these associations are not confounded by gaseous copollutants, seasonal patterns, or weather. 3–8 However, it is unclear which populations are particularly susceptible to the adverse effects of PM10 (particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter less than 10 microns), and this issue has been identified as a key research need. 9 This question is linked to the question of potential mechanism, which is another key concern.

In recent studies, exposure to airborne particles has been associated with reduced heart rate variability, 10–12 increased c-reactive protein 13 concentrations, and higher peripheral white cell counts. 14,15 Diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by disturbances in all of these cardiovascular risk factors 16–18 and we hypothesized that diabetics might therefore be at increased risk of PM10-associated cardiovascular events.

We previously examined race, sex, and socioeconomic status as modifiers of the effect of air pollution on mortality, 19 and found little evidence of substantial modification. Similar results were reported by Samet and coworkers. 6 We have also found only weak patterns for hospital admissions. 5,20

Goldberg and coauthor found a higher risk of all-cause mortality in diabetics than in nondiabetics, associated with particulate air pollution in Montreal. 21 We have examined the question of effect modification by medical condition in Chicago, and we have previously reported 22 that diabetes was a modifier of hospital admissions for heart, but not lung, disease in persons 65 and older.

In this study, we enlarge the Chicago analysis to four cities in the United States; we examined the effect modification by concurrent diagnosis of diabetes overall and by age group. We applied a hierarchical model to verify that the effects of PM10 on persons with diabetes differ substantially from those on persons without diabetes. In the first stage, separate Poisson regressions were fit in each city and within each stratum of age and diabetes. In the second stage, the estimated effect size for PM10 within city and strata were regressed against the stratification variables, allowing for a random effect.

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Methods

Health Data

The health data were extracted from billing records of the Health Care Financing Administration (MEDICARE), which provides hospital coverage for all U.S. citizens age 65 and over. We analyzed data from Cook County (Chicago), Illinois, Wayne County (Detroit), Michigan, Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), PA, and King County (Seattle), WA, between 1988 and 1994. These cities were chosen because they are in the most populous counties in the U.S. with daily PM10 monitoring. Within each city, we computed daily counts of hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease (International Classification of Disease, 9th Revision [ICD-9], 390–429) as given by the discharge diagnoses. We stratified these counts into admissions with or without a notation of diabetes (ICD-9, 250) as a secondary, contributing factor for the admission. We also stratified by age, producing four daily counts of cardiovascular admissions: with diabetes, age 65–74; with diabetes, age 75+; without diabetes, age 65–74; and without diabetes, age 75+.

Weather data for the four cities were obtained from the EarthInfo CD-ROM (EarthInfo CD NCDC Surface Airways, EarthInfo Inc., Boulder, CO), and air pollution data were obtained from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Aerometric Information Retrieval System (AIRS) network. 23 Where more than one PM10 monitor was operating in a city, we computed the daily mean using an algorithm that accounts for different means and variances among the monitors. 3

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City-Specific Analyses

The associations between hospital admission counts and PM10 were investigated with a generalized additive robust Poisson regression model. 24 Such models have been fit previously in these cities to examine the association of PM10 with cardiovascular admissions in all persons age 65 and older. 3,6

In this analysis, those same models were fit to stratum-specific daily counts. The generalized additive model allows us to better model the nonlinear dependence of daily admissions on weather and season by using nonparametric smoothing. The covariates we examined were temperature, prior day's temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, and day of the week. To control for weather variables, we chose the smoothing parameter that minimized Akaike's Information Criterion. 25 To model seasonality, we chose the smoothing parameter that reduced the residuals to white noise. Where that was not possible, we incorporated short-term autoregressive parameters and chose the smoothing parameter that reduced the remaining residuals to white noise. Further details have been published previously. 3,6

The mean of PM10 on the day of the admission and the day before the admission was used as our exposure variable; this was treated linearly. Separate models were fit for each of the four subgroups in each of the four cities.

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Second Stage of the Analysis

To examine effect modification by diabetes in the four cities we fit a meta-regression model of the form:EQUATION

Where βij is the estimated PM10 effect in city i and group j, Dj is the dummy for diabetes, and Aj is the dummy variable for age 75+. Then α tells us how much the effect of PM10 changes for a person with diabetes, γ indicates how much it changes for a person over 75, and η allows for an interaction between the two categories. β* is the effect of PM10 on persons without diabetes who are younger than 75 years old.

In this model we assume that:EQUATION

where βij and μj are defined above, Sij is the estimated variance-covariance matrix, and δ is the random variance-covariance matrix component, reflecting heterogeneity in response among the cities. δ ≈ 0 corresponds to the fixed effect estimates.

To estimate the model parameters, the method described by Berkey et al.26 is applied. More specifically, the iterative generalized least squares method to estimate model parameters is:EQUATION

with EQUATION

where V = Ŝij + δ and θ = (β*,α,γ,η)T. The covariance matrix δ is estimated by maximum likelihood.

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Results

Table 1 shows the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile values for the number of daily admissions for cardiovascular disease with and without a concurrent diagnosis of diabetes. Admissions without diabetes were around four times higher than admissions for those causes with diabetes, except in Seattle, where they were seven times higher.

TABLE 1

TABLE 1

Table 1 also shows the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile values for the environmental variables in the four cities. The median values for PM10 are similar in all four cities.

Table 2 shows the results for the effect of PM10 in each city by strata of diabetes and age. These city-specific results show higher effects of PM10 in diabetics than in nondiabetics in all four cities, although the differences are modest in all cities.

TABLE 2

TABLE 2

Table 3 shows the results of the hierarchical modeling. We applied a meta-regression with indicator variables for diabetes and for older age; the interaction term of diabetes by older age was quite small.

TABLE 3

TABLE 3

Diabetes was a modifier of the effect of PM10 on cardiovascular hospital admissions, with percentage increases almost doubled compared with nondiabetics. Age was also a modifier of risk. There was a suggestion of a somewhat smaller difference in the effect of diabetes in the older age group than in the younger group.

As Chicago had more events than any of the other cities, and because we have previously reported results from Chicago, we repeated the meta-regression for the three new cities, excluding Chicago. The findings were quite similar to those attained by using all four cities.

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Discussion

We have confirmed our initial observation of effect modification by diabetes in a multicity hierarchical model. We found that diabetics have double the percentage increase in PM10-associated cardiovascular admissions compared with nondiabetics. We also found that persons age 75 and older had higher risk, and that the interaction between the two categories (diabetes and age) was less than additive. If the latter relation is confirmed in other studies, it may represent a survivor effect among diabetes, enhanced susceptibility among nondiabetics, or both. In this study, we assume that the relation between hospital admissions and particulate matter is linear. In a previous study, we tested for the linearity of the exposure response function in all persons age 65 and older 27 in 10 U.S. cities, and we found an almost linear relation with steeper slopes at lower doses.

The observation of higher risks among diabetics is interesting for several reasons. As noted in the introduction, recent studies have reported that airborne particles are associated with reduced heart rate variability, 10–12 increased plasma c-reactive protein, 13 and increased plasma fibrinogen 14 and white cell counts. 14,15 These are dimensions of cardiovascular vulnerability that are affected by diabetes as well, which makes the observation plausible. More interestingly, it raises the issue of whether other cardiovascular risk factors affected by diabetes are also vulnerable to airborne particles. For example, diabetics are at increased risk of vascular injury. Whether particulate exposure has similar effects on the association between diabetes and vascular disease may be a fruitful area of research. Some preliminary reports support this hypothesis. For example, Vincent and coworkers 28 have recently reported that exposure to urban particles increased endothelin I and endothelin III concentrations in plasma. Another recent study reported that rabbits exposed to urban particles showed, in addition to increases in white cell counts, increases in atherosclerotic lesions in coronary arteries. 29

Diabetics also show an upregulation of inflammatory activity. Recent reports have indicated that in addition to elevating white cell counts, particle exposure is associated with increased concentrations of c-reactive protein in plasma. 12 C-reactive protein is an acute phase marker of inflammation that is associated with risk of cardiovascular events such as myocardial infarction and death. 30

Salvi and coworkers 15 recently reported that human subjects exposed to diesel particles had elevated levels of vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 and intercellular adhesion molecule-1. The association of factors such as these with particle exposure would appear to be a fruitful area of research.

Our findings indicate that the interaction of particle exposure with diabetes deserves more attention. Even though the lack of detailed medical information on subjects is a limitation of this study, diabetes is a highly prevalent chronic illness and thus public health implications of this association are potentially large.

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References

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Keywords:

particulate air pollution; hospital admissions; diabetes; heart disease; hierarchical models

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.