This often-overlooked environmental hazard risks heart health

By Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published June 12, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Noise pollution is an important public health issue, as it contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease through various mechanisms, including sleep disruption, stress, and inflammation.

  • Reducing noise pollution is an important strategy for both primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease for individual patients.

  • Physicians can play a key role in advocating for noise reduction measures on local, state, national, and global levels, as well as counseling patients on individual steps to limit noise exposure.

From common sources such as automobile traffic, overhead planes, rail traffic, construction, industrial activities, and even loud recreational events, noise pollution is ubiquitous in modern-day lives. 

This form of pollution is an often-overlooked environmental hazard that is now gaining recognition for its contribution to the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD). 

A widespread public health issue

The WHO recognized environmental noise as an “important public health issue” in its 2018 guidelines on environmental noise for the European region, stating that noise “has negative impacts on human health and well-being and is a growing concern.”[] The WHO has noted that at least 1.6 million healthy life years are lost annually due to traffic-related noise in Western Europe alone. 

These guidelines are relevant for the US as well, as evidenced by authors of a 2024 review in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, which emphasizes that, along with water, soil, and light pollution, noise pollution increases cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.[]

Others agree there are several areas of cardiovascular health negatively impacted by noise pollution. In an editorial in the Journal of Cardiac Failure, Hauptman and Rich declared it to be the “heart failure community’s biggest threat.”[]

More recently, a review published in Circulation Research delineated the mechanisms by which noise pollution raises CVD risk, stating, “Traffic noise at night causes fragmentation and shortening of sleep, elevation of stress hormone levels, and increased oxidative stress in the vasculature and the brain. These factors can promote vascular (endothelial) dysfunction, inflammation, and arterial hypertension, thus elevating cardiovascular risk.”[]

Other mechanisms and health impacts

Noise pollution has also been shown to be associated with worsening mental health, cognitive impairments, sleep disorders, increased irritability, and even adverse birth outcomes.

Psychological stress and mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are associated with noise pollution, and are known to be risk factors for CVD and for adverse outcomes in those with established CVD, including higher risk of myocardial infarction and stroke.

Furthermore, the reduced sleep quality and fragmentation caused by noise exposure increases sympathetic nervous system activity, which in turn increases risk for chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes mellitus, which are also strong risk factors for the development of CVD.

Finally, as noted by authors publishing in the journal Current Problems in Cardiology, there appears to be disruption in the hypothalamic-pituitary axis secondary to noise pollution, which also increases risk of CVD.[]

Reducing noise exposure

So, what can be done about noise exposure? Mitigation strategies include raising awareness and advocating for change—both of which physicians are uniquely positioned to do—on local, state, national, and global levels. 

Decreasing speed limits has been found to reduce noise annoyance from traffic, and urban planners can be encouraged to prioritize noise-reduction measures, including better traffic management, soundproofing of buildings, and creating more green spaces to act as noise buffers.

Physicians can also counsel their patients to take individual steps to limit noise exposure. These include advising patients on the importance of a quiet sleeping environment, using earplugs, installing double-paned windows, and seeking out quieter leisure activities. These measures can help in both primary and secondary prevention of CVD.

The growing body of evidence linking noise pollution to increased risk of CVD underscores the importance of recognizing noise as a significant environmental health hazard. 

As physicians, we have a responsibility to advocate for noise reduction measures in our communities and to educate our patients about the cardiovascular risks associated with chronic noise exposure. By taking proactive steps to mitigate noise pollution, we can help protect the heart health of our patients and our communities. 

What this means for you

As a physician, it is important to be aware of the growing evidence linking noise pollution to cardiovascular disease. By educating your patients about the risks associated with chronic noise exposure and counseling them on strategies to reduce their exposure, you can help protect their cardiovascular health. Additionally, by advocating for noise reduction measures in your community and supporting policies that prioritize noise mitigation, you can contribute to creating a healthier environment for all.

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