Scientists at Edinburgh University analysed 103 observational studies covering 28 countries and looking at gaseous pollutants including carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone.
The results showed an association between carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide and stroke-related hospital admissions or death. The weakest association was found for ozone.
Anoop Shah, lead author of the study, said: “Long-term exposure to pollution has already been linked to lung, heart and circulatory disease. This study now demonstrates that even short-term exposure to air pollution can trigger disabling strokes or death from stroke.
“We hope these findings further highlight the adverse effects of pollution on health and that policies will be put in place to continue to reduce atmospheric air pollution.”
A second study looking at air pollution and anxiety in the United States found recent exposure to have a more significant association with anxiety, with effects being strongest following the first month of exposure.
Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation which funded the stroke study, said: “It’s deeply concerning that, in many areas in the UK, air pollution may not meet the required EU limits until 2020.
“It is absolutely staggering that the Government accepts that some may not meet the limit until 2030, a full 20 years after the EU deadline. This puts hundreds of thousands of people across the UK at higher but totally avoidable risk of having a stroke.
“This new research only compounds what we already know - that air pollution is a blight on public health, particularly on heart and circulatory disease such as stroke.”
Last April, a report from Public Health England said long-term exposure to air pollution caused the death of 2,567 people in Yorkshire in 2010, the most recent figures. Hull, Rotherham and Wakefield were the worst areas for deaths for particle air pollution.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation warned in May that residents in Leeds and Sheffield are at risk from dangerously high levels of air pollution.
York has also long stood out as one of the region’s worst pollution blackspots, with traffic fumes remaining trapped in the narrow streets which snake through the ancient city.