Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: A little quiet for the heart, please

Heart Beat

A little quiet for the heart, please

There's little question that loud noise hurts your hearing. The growing din of everyday life may also be bad for blood pressure and the heart.

Several dozen studies over the last thirty years have demonstrated links between noise in the workplace or at home with high blood pressure and heart disease. In the latest study, German researchers compared work and home noise levels for more than 2,000 Berliners who survived heart attacks with those of an equal number of others who were admitted to the same hospitals for accidents, hernia, or other problems probably unrelated to noise. Overall, those who were chronically exposed to loud noise were more likely to have had heart attacks than those who didn't live or work in noisy places. Both men and women were affected by environmental noise — mostly the sound of traffic heard from home — while only men were affected by sound levels at work. The researchers found that individuals who lived on streets with noise levels over 60 decibels, about the sound of a window fan on high, were more likely to have heart attacks than those living on quieter streets.

This report, which was published online in the European Heart Journal on November 24, 2005, and others showing a link between noise and heart attack, high blood pressure, angina, and other cardiovascular troubles must be taken with a grain of salt. In the German study, for example, it is possible that the people who lived in noisier neighborhoods were poorer than those living in quieter areas, and so didn't have the same access to medical care or healthy food as their wealthier counterparts. Most studies also suggest that the contribution of secondhand noise (noise that you didn't make) to heart disease is far smaller than the contributions of smoking, a poor diet, inactivity, and other more traditional risk factors.

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