Airplane noise tied to high blood pressure risk

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who live near airports may have an elevated risk of high blood pressure due to noise pollution, a Swedish study suggests.

Dr. Mats Rosenlund of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and associates found that among more than 2,000 men followed for a decade, those who lived in areas with the greatest noise from a nearby airport had a higher risk of developing high blood pressure.

It’s possible that the constant noise of planes buzzing overhead is a source of chronic stress for some of these individuals, which in turn may raise their blood pressure, explained Rosenlund.

“It is thought that aircraft noise causes stress problems when it interferes with people’s ability to think, relax or sleep, for example,” Rosenlund told Reuters Health.

A wide range of factors are known to affect heart health, and it’s not yet clear that airplane noise is directly responsible for the higher blood pressure seen in this study, according to Rosenlund. But, he noted, this study, along with past research, shows there is an association between noise exposure and high blood pressure.

The study involved 2,027 men from four municipalities surrounding the Stockholm Arlanda airport who were free of high blood pressure at the study’s outset. Their aircraft-noise exposure was estimated using government air traffic data, and the researchers tracked any new diagnoses of high blood pressure over the next 10 years.

In general, the 20 percent of men exposed to the highest average levels of airplane noise were 19 percent were more likely to develop high blood pressure than their counterparts with lower-level noise exposure, the researchers report in the medical journal Epidemiology.

Other factors they considered -- such as the men’s age, weight, income and exercise habits -- did not change the link between aircraft noise and blood pressure.

Still, Rosenlund said, it’s too early to say “with confidence” that living near an airport raises a person’s risk of high blood pressure.

A large European study involving multiple airports is underway, he noted, and it may provide a more definitive answer.

For now, Rosenlund said he would hesitate to recommend that people living near airports find a new home. On the other hand, he pointed out, people who are “constantly annoyed” by airplane noise might want to consider a neighborhood more conducive to their overall happiness.

SOURCE: Epidemiology, November 2007.