Airplane Noise Cardiovascular Disease Risk
October 9, 2013

Airport Noise Linked To Higher Cardiovascular Disease And Stroke Risk

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

A pair of new studies in the British Medical Journal indicate that individuals who live near a major airport run a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. In one study, scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that American zip codes with 10-decibel higher aircraft noise averaged a 3.5-percent higher cardiovascular hospital admission rate for adults aged 65 and older.

In the other study, a team of British scientists looked at the effects of aircraft noise around London’s Heathrow airport and found that risks of hospital admissions and deaths due to stroke, heart and circulatory disease were approximately 10 to 20 percent higher in areas with the highest levels of airplane noise compared with the quietest areas.

Previous studies have found a connection between living in a loud environment and risk of high blood pressure, but not many have looked specifically at the risk of cardiovascular disease.

"These findings suggest a possible link between high levels of aircraft noise and risk of heart disease and stroke,” said Anna Hansell, lead author of the UK study and a researcher at Imperial College London's School of Public Health.

“The exact role that noise exposure may play in ill health is not well established. However, it is plausible that it might be contributing, for example by raising blood pressure or by disturbing people's sleep,” she added.

“The relative importance of daytime and night-time noise also needs to be investigated further."

Professor Paul Elliott, the senior author of the UK study, says that a  number of other factors could play a role in the increased risk level found by his team’s study.

"It's worth bearing in mind that there are many other factors that are known to have important influences on an individual's risk of heart disease and stroke, such as diet, smoking, lack of exercise and medical conditions such as raised blood pressure and diabetes,” he said. “However, our study does raise important questions about the potential role of noise on cardiovascular health, which needs further study."

In an editorial published alongside the studies, Stephen Stansfeld, a preventative medicine expert at Queen Mary University, said that the new research provides “preliminary evidence that aircraft noise exposure is not just a cause of annoyance, sleep disturbance, and reduced quality of life but may also increase morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular disease."

Researchers from the Harvard study said measures could be taken to protect people from higher noise levels if they were indeed the cause of greater risk for cardiovascular disease.

"Our study emphasizes that interventions that reduce noise exposures could reduce cardiovascular risks among people living near airports,” said co-author Jonathan Levy, an adjunct professor of environmental health at HSPH. “This can be done through improved aircraft technology and optimized flight paths, by using runways strategically to avoid when possible residential areas when people are sleeping, and by soundproofing of homes and other buildings.”

Stansfeld suggested planners need to consider noise levels “when extending airports in heavily populated areas or planning new airports."