Loud Road Noise Can Increase Risk of High Blood Pressure, Says New Study

Loud Road Noise Can Increase Risk of High Blood Pressure

Road noise is a common source of irritation for many people, but recent research has shown that it may also have negative impacts on health. A study published in the journal JACC: Advances on March 22, 2023 found that exposure to loud road noise was associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

Previous research had established a link between road noise and hypertension, but it was difficult to determine whether the effects were due to noise pollution alone or a combination of noise and air pollution. The new study was able to account for the effects of air pollution, and still found a significant association between road noise and high blood pressure.

The study was conducted by Jing Huang, an assistant professor in the department of occupational and environmental health sciences at Peking University in Beijing, China. Dr. Huang notes that the robust association between road noise and hypertension was somewhat surprising, given the fact that air pollution is often a confounding factor.

Environmental Exposures May Increase Heart Disease Risk

The findings of this study are consistent with recent guidelines from the European Society of Cardiology, which suggest that environmental exposures, including high levels of noise, may increase the risk of heart disease. It is important to note that while this study establishes an association between road noise and high blood pressure, it does not prove causation. Further research will be needed to explore the mechanisms behind this link and to determine whether reducing exposure to road noise can reduce the risk of hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases.

High Blood Pressure Affects Nearly Half of US Adults

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a medical condition where the blood pushing against the walls of arteries is consistently too high, which can cause damage to vital organs like the heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of adults in the United States, or 116 million people, have hypertension. Hypertension is diagnosed when an individual has a systolic blood pressure greater than 130 millimeters of mercury or a diastolic blood pressure greater than 80 mmHg. It is important to note that even if an individual is taking medication to manage hypertension and their blood pressure improves, they would still have a hypertension diagnosis.

Road Traffic Noise Increases Risk of Hypertension

Researchers conducted a study on nearly 250,000 people between the ages of 40 and 69 who did not have hypertension at the start of the study. They estimated the level of road traffic noise near each participant's residential address using the Common Noise Assessment Method, a modeling tool developed by the European Commission. 

After following the participants for a median of 8.1 years, they found that over 21,000 people had developed high blood pressure. The study found that people who lived in areas with more road traffic noise were more likely to develop hypertension, and there was a "dose-dependent relationship" between the level of road noise and the risk of hypertension. The louder the noise, the greater the risk.

Potential Links between Noise and Hypertension

Dr. Jim Liu, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University in Columbus, who was not involved in this research, said that this study is interesting because it investigates the link between noise and high blood pressure, which is not typically considered. Dr. Liu notes that increased noise or pollution could lead to increased stress on the body and cause elevations in blood pressure. Stress on the body can cause physiological changes, such as sympathetic nervous activation, increased inflammation, or fluctuations in adrenal gland hormones, which can affect blood pressure.

What are some ways to reduce road traffic noise?

According to Liu, taking steps to reduce traffic noise can help minimize its negative impact on health, especially if the noise is bothersome. Chao suggests various methods for noise prevention, including relocating to a quieter area, lowering the volume of noise, or blocking the noise with better insulation materials or hearing protection like earplugs or earmuffs.

She also advises looking for devices with a good fit and a higher Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) for better sound-blocking. In addition, Chao notes that some electronically powered devices use active noise cancellation to cancel out sound waves. However, she cautions against using noise machines or noise masking, as they may only add to the overall volume of noise exposure.

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