If your city ranks high on those most-polluted lists and your heart health is shaky, new research gives cause to possibly reconsider your zip code.  A long history of exposure to polluted air may accelerate the arteries-hardening process known as atherosclerosis, and therefore be tied to heart attack and stroke, finds a new University of Michigan study.

Higher concentrations of fine particulate air pollution were tied to quicker thickening of the inner two layers of the key blood vessel delivering blood to the brain, head and neck, known as the carotid artery. Past studies have also tied an increase in exposure to pollution to an increase in heart attack and stroke risk.

On the flip side, researchers found drops in exposure to fine particulate air pollution over time to be tied to slower worsening of arthritis and heart disease adblood-vessel thickness.

Even in people who may have no visible symptoms of heart disease, the thickness of this blood vessel indicates how much thickening-of-the-arteries (atherosclerosis) is occurring.

When researchers tracked more than 5,000 adults (ages 45 to 84) across six metropolitan areas, they found that, on average, the thickness of the carotid artery increased by 14 micrometers each year. However, vessels within people exposed to higher levels of residential particulate air pollution thickened at a faster pace compared to those exposed to less air pollution.

“Linking these findings with other results from the same population suggests that persons living in a more polluted part of town may have a 2 percent higher risk of stroke as compared to people in a less polluted part of the same metropolitan area,” said Sara Adar, the John Searle Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health, in a statement.

These findings need to be confirmed in longer studies, said researchers.

Is air pollution a concern in Your area? Could it be affecting Your heart health?