As smoke from Canadian wildfires continues to clog the skies with "unprecedented" air quality, Essentia Health interventional cardiologist, Rory Farnan has been worrying about his patients.

"Because it inevitably means there's going to be more heart attacks," said Farnan, who's based out of Fargo. "We tend to see it on bad air days in cities all over the world."

Wildfire smoke fuels 'unprecedented' poor air quality across Minnesota; alert issued through Tuesday

Farnan compared inhaling wildfire smoke to cigarette smoke. The tiny particulate matter in both types of smoke makes its way into the bloodstream when inhaled, traveling all over the body, including to the heart arteries and increasing the chance for heart attacks.

Inhaling smoke can destabilize pockets of cholesterol in the blood vessels, Farnan said, causing them to burst and putting the cholesterol into the bloodstream, which can lead to a heart attack.

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Long-term, the particulate matter in smoke can irritate blood vessels and impact the body's ability to heal.

"If you're prescribed an aspirin and you're not good about taking your medicines, make sure you're taking it," Farnan said. "If you're prescribed a cholesterol medicine called a statin, make sure you're taking it because both of these medicines will decrease your rates of heart attack in the short term."

Farnan also urged against physical activity, or at least limiting it where possible, and recommended closing windows and changing air filters while the air quality remains poor.

In addition to aggravating diseases of the heart, the current air conditions can also aggravate lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Snapshot: A haze over the Northland

Minnesota has issued a statewide air quality alert in effect until noon Tuesday, Aug. 3, when winds are expected to start moving the smoke out of the state, improving fine particle level.

The fine particle levels are expected to reach a level considered "very unhealthy for everyone" in north-central Minnesota, including the western third of St. Louis and Carlton counties as well as Itasca, Koochiching and Aikin counties and stretching all the way down to the Metro region, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The Minnesota Pollution Control agency considers the fine particle level in the purple category to be very unhealthy for everyone, while the level in the red category is considered unhealthy for everyone and the orange category is unhealthy for sensitive groups. (Map courtesy of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency)
The Minnesota Pollution Control agency considers the fine particle level in the purple category to be very unhealthy for everyone, while the level in the red category is considered unhealthy for everyone and the orange category is unhealthy for sensitive groups. (Map courtesy of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency)

The rest of Northeastern Minnesota is expected to maintain levels considered "unhealthy for everyone" or "unhealthy for sensitive groups."

The MPCA's latest update reported that smoke levels were less prolific Saturday than they were in previous days due to rainfall that fell over the most intense wildfires Friday night.

This story was updated at 9:25 a.m. Aug. 2 to correct the date the air quality alert is expected to be lifted; the day was correct. It was originally posted at 8:18 p.m. July 31. The News Tribune regrets the error.