Anti-angina drug may help protect our heart against carbon monoxide
Researchers have found that even low levels of carbon monoxide can be fatal, by disrupting the heart's rhythm.
Scientists found that levels common in heavy traffic could affect the way the heart resets itself after every beat.
Their study showed that a common angina drug might reverse the effect.
The British Heart Foundation applauded the result and said that the research was a promising start.
Carbon monoxide is generally produced by faulty boilers, cigarettes and car exhausts.
It is deadly at high levels as it "shoulder-barges" oxygen out of the blood, meaning less is transported around the body. Carbon monoxide poisoning kills more than 50 people in the UK each year and many more around the world.
However, studies have suggested that even low levels, such as that found in built-up cities with lots of traffic, may also damage the heart.
The University of Leeds research team discovered that the gas kept sodium channels, which are important for controlling the heartbeat, open for longer period of time.
Disrupting the sodium channels can disrupt the heart's rhythm, leading to cardiac arrhythmia, which can turn fatal.
In association with researchers in France they tested an angina drug - which also affects the sodium channels - on rats.
"It was very exciting for us. When we monitored rats exposed to levels of carbon monoxide similar to heavy pollution, they had the same heart problems and we could reverse them," the BBC quoted Prof Chris Peers, from the University of Leeds, as saying.
"At the moment no one knows how to treat this. We're saying look there's a drug on the shelf that might be able to help.
"Of course it needs clinical trials, but we believe it is a great start," he said.
Dr Helene Wilson, a research advisor at the British Heart Foundation, said that the study was used to better understand the underlying causes of an abnormal heart rhythm.
"Carbon monoxide poisoning is tragically common but hopefully these promising results can be replicated in people so that it saves lives in the future," Wilson said.
The study was recently published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.