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Noise Pollution Linked to Heart Attacks

A new study finds that chronic exposure to car, train and airplane noise can trigger heart disease​

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Robert Landau / Getty Images

A noisy environment resulting from cars, trains and airplanes can be a nuisance, especially when you’re trying to concentrate or sleep. It can also be detrimental to your health, potentially causing a heart attack, new research from Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School reveals. ​

Much of the attention given to pollution focuses on particles in the air and the impact they have on health. But noise can cause chronic stress, disrupt sleep, and trigger anxiety and depression, which all affect the health of your heart. Long-term stress is linked to inflammation in the blood vessels, which can cause heart disease. Living close to highways and airports increases your exposure to exhaust and other air pollutants that can be harmful to your well-being. ​

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New Jersey ideally suited for study

Researchers, led by Abel E. Moreyra, M.D., professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, wanted to find out if noise pollution can cause heart attacks, so they turned to the MIDAS database, a repository of all heart-related hospitalizations in New Jersey, to find out. The state not only has several dense urban areas but is also close to roadways, trains and three major airports, making it ideally suited for the study. ​

The scientists analyzed heart attack rates for close to 16,000 people who were hospitalized in 2018. Then, using data from New Jersey’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, they calculated the average daily transportation noise each patient experienced at home. Patients were divided into two categories: those who lived with high levels of transportation noise (averaging 65 or more decibels throughout the day) and those who lived with low levels of transportation noise (averaging less than 65 decibels during the day). Noise levels at 65 decibels is the same as a loud conversation. ​  

Noise causes more than stress

The researchers found the following:

  • Five percent of hospitalizations due to a heart attack were triggered by high noise levels.  
  • The heart attack rate in places with high transportation noise was 72 percent more than in low-noise areas.
  • High noise exposure was to blame for about 1 in 20 heart attacks in New Jersey. ​

“As cardiologists, we are used to thinking about many traditional risk factors, such as smoking, hypertension or diabetes,” Moreyra said in a statement. “This study and others suggest maybe we should start thinking about air pollution and noise pollution as additional risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”​

This study isn’t the only one to showcase the harmful effects of noise pollution. A study published last year in the British Medical Association journal The BMJ showed that long-term traffic and railway noise exposure in residential buildings in Denmark put older residents at higher risk of developing all-cause dementia. ​

So, what can be done? Moreyra suggests that lawmakers could put forth policies aimed at reducing transportation noise in homes, even for people living in urban areas. Moreyra pointed to noise ordinances, infrastructure to block road noise, more air traffic rules, noise insulation for buildings and quieter tires for vehicles.

Loud Noise Is the New Secondhand Smoke

Donna Fuscaldo is a contributing writer and editor focusing on personal finance and health. She has spent over two decades writing and covering news for several national publications including the Wall Street JournalForbes, Investopedia and HerMoney.

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