If you’re tucked away in the suburbs, you likely enjoy the peaceful ambience of your street, but believe it or not, some people prefer the hustle and bustle of living next to a busy road. The background noise of cars whizzing by becomes almost rhythmic after a while, but new research reveals that living near a heavily trafficked road may take a toll on the heart. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that enduring air pollution and road traffic noise for a prolonged period of time may be linked to heart failure, especially among women. “We found long-term exposure to specific air pollutants and road traffic noise increased the risk of incident heart failure, especially for former smokers or people with hypertension, so preventive and educational measures are necessary,” says study lead-author Dr. Youn-Hee Lim of Copenhagen University.
The researchers’ analyzed data for 22,000 women ages 44 and older. The participants were followed for up to 20 years as part of the Danish Nurse Cohort Study. The team measured the levels of fine particle matter and nitrogen dioxide from cars, trucks, and buses around the homes of the participants. Researchers also measured road traffic noise in decibels. The results revealed that exposure to fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide over a three-year period increased the risk of heart failure by 10 or more percent. Being close to a loud road increased the risk by 12% for every 9.3 decibels in increase in exposure to road traffic noise. The results show that air pollution played a larger role than traffic noise, but women who experienced both factors were the most at risk for developing heart failure.
Participants provided health information prior to the study and were asked about their body mass index, smoking history, activity levels, eating habits, and alcohol intake. Some of these factors, like smoking, may have exacerbated the effects of air pollution and road traffic on the heart. Blood pressure levels certainly played a roll, according to researchers. About 12% of the participants had high blood pressure when they enrolled in the study. Among the participants eventually diagnosed with heart failure, 30% had a history of high blood pressure.
For all of these reasons, researchers emphasize the importance of taking precautionary measures to reduce the impact of air pollution and road noise. “To minimize the impact of these exposures, broad public tactics such as emissions control measures should be implemented. Strategies like smoking cessation and blood pressure control must be encouraged to help reduce individual risk,” Lim says.