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Air and noise pollution linked to increased heart failure

22 October 2021 – Exposure to air pollution and noise over road traffic in a few years may increase the risk heart failure, according to new research from a large observational study.

The study examines more than 22,000 female nurses in Denmark, 44 years and older, over a period of 15 to 20 years to evaluate the impact of exposure to small particles and nitrogen dioxide, as well as road traffic noise.

The results showed that increased exposure to these pollutants after only 3 years was linked to a significantly higher risk for new heart failure

Former smokers and hypertensive patients were most susceptible to the adverse effects of fine particles, says Youn-Hee Lim, PhD, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health in the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

In fact, former smokers who have been exposed to fine particles for long periods have a 72% risk of heart failure. They could no longer investigate exposure to fine particles, says Lim, “therefore we can not say what is the most important number of years where the risk of heart failure begins to enter.”

Road traffic noise is estimated by measuring the noise of roads within a radius of 3 kilometers of the participants’ homes. Although the relationship with road noise was not as strong as with pollutants, it was still associated with a greater risk of heart failure.

The findings were published online in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Although previous studies relate to air pollution and cardiovascular disease, there has been little research to date on the link between extensive exposure to air pollution and heart failure, says Lim.

“Since air pollution and road noise are a major source – traffic – it is important to consider the independent or interactive effect of the two exposures on health,” the researchers wrote.

With the emission standards now in place to combat pollution, it is interesting that the researchers thought of investigating air pollution as a risk for heart failure, says Ileana L. Piña, MD, a heart failure transplant cardiologist and professor in medicine at Wayne State University.

“You think of respiratory diseases in cities with a high level of pollution, but you do not think of heart failure,” says Piña, who was not part of this study. “Next, I think we need to call out what it was in the polluted air that caused the trauma.”

Each woman enrolled for the study completed a comprehensive questionnaire body mass index; lifestyle factors including smoke, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and dietary habits; current health conditions; reproductive health; and working conditions. The study did not take into account things like exposure to indoor air pollution or occupational noise, which may have affected the results.

Lim says broad public tactics such as better emissions control measures can help reduce the impact of exposure to pollution, as can things like quitting smoking and controlling blood pressure.

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