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Heart disease warning over asbestos

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Workers exposed to asbestos as part of their job are at a significantly greater risk of heart disease and stroke than the general population with women more likely to be affected than men, new research has found.

It is already well-known that asbestos workers are prone to serious lung disease, such as mesothelioma and asbestosis, as a direct result of their exposure to asbestos fibres.

In the latest study scientists analysed the cause of death among nearly 100,000 asbestos workers taking part in regular voluntary health monitoring and answering questions on levels of exposure for the Asbestos Workers Survey.

Most of the men taking part in the survey worked in asbestos removal while most of the women worked in manufacturing.

More than half of the men (58%) and women (52%) were smokers at the time of their first medical examination, proportions which had fallen only slightly (55% and 49%) at the time of their last.

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 using standardised mortality ratios.

During the study period, 15,557 people died from all causes with stroke accounting for just over 1,000 deaths and heart disease accounting for another 4,000.

They found that based on the standardised mortality ratios, asbestos workers were significantly more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than the general population, even after taking account of smoking.

Male asbestos workers were 63% more likely to die of a stroke and 39% more likely to die of heart disease while the corresponding figures for women were 100% and 89% respectively.

And there was some evidence that the longer the duration of exposure to asbestos, the greater was the likelihood of dying from heart disease, even after taking account of smoking.

The research, carried out by the Mathematical Sciences Unit at the Health and Safety Laboratory in Buxton, Derbyshire, is published online in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal.

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