You’re taking all the steps you can to protect your cardiovascular system: eating right, exercising, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, not smoking. Now it turns out there’s something else you should do: Avoid noise.
According to a review paper published this week in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, noise pollution may increase the risk of coronary artery disease, hypertension, and heart failure.
As reported in The Washington Post, the authors of the study examined research on noise pollution and heart disease. They found that such loud sounds as the roar of a jet plane, the rumble of trucks, and the shrill siren of emergency vehicles not only disrupt sleep, which can lead to health problems, but also trigger the stress response, releasing a rush of hormones that can eventually damage the heart.
“Ten years ago, people were saying that noise is just annoying, but now I think there’s considerable evidence that noise makes you sick, and one of the predominate diseases is cardiovascular disease,” lead study author Thomas Munzel told The Post.
The artificial noises we live with day in and day out appear to increase stress levels we may not even be aware of.
“If this persists for years, then you have a risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure and arrhythmia,” he said.
He also told ABC News that unwanted environmental noise is as significant a risk factor for heart disease as high cholesterol and obesity.
Especially damaging are unexpected noises such as a sonic boom, a nearby explosion, or a sudden jackhammer. These trigger a stress response as your body prepares itself for fight or flight. The Mayo Clinic describes it this way:
“Your hypothalamus . . . sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands . . . to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
“Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure, and boosts energy supplies.”
Steve Kopecky, a professor of medicine specializing in cardiovascular diseases at the Mayo Clinic, told The Post that there are several ways that response can lead to damage. The rush of hormones causes the arteries to constrict, which can damage the lining of the arteries and lead to heart disease. It can also raise blood pressure or make the blood more likely to clot, leading to heart attacks.
This research confirms the results of earlier studies which linked loud noise to heart disease. For example, the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) reported results of a 2013 study which found that older people exposed to aircraft noise, especially at high levels, may face increased risk of being hospitalized for cardiovascular disease. HSPH researchers, in concert with Boston University School of Public Heath, found that, on average, zip codes with higher aircraft noise had a 3.5 percent higher cardiovascular hospital admission rate.
The researchers analyzed the relationship between noise from 89 U.S. airports and the correlation between cardiovascular-related hospitalizations from approximately six million study participants.
“In speculating about how aircraft noise might be liked to higher rates of cardiovascular hospitalizations among older people,” HSPH wrote, “the researchers noted that noise has been previously linked with stress reactions and increased blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”
In reporting on the current study, Time Magazine spoke with Dr. James O’Keefe, a cardiologist at the Mid-America Heart Institute, Saint Luke’s Hospital, in Kansas City.
“When we’re exposed to loud noises, the sympathetic nervous system dominates,” O’Keefe told Time. “That can really put your system on alert and makes you jumpy, which can wear down your resilience – just like any other type of physical or mental stress.”
Your cardiologists at The Medical Group of South Florida in Jupiter, Florida, want you to be aware of the dangers of noise pollution to your cardiovascular health. Many of us may not be able to move if we live near an airport, for example, but there are some steps we can take.
Sleeping with a “white noise” machine can reduce nighttime noises. Installing triple-pane windows and keeping them closed at all times can reduce street noises. And such relaxation techniques as deep breathing and meditation can help calm the central nervous system when it is constantly over-stimulated by noise.
There are other methods to reducing the harmful stimulus of noise that we will be happy to discuss with you if you are concerned about this issue. Just contact us for more information.