Where You Live Could Affect Your Blood Pressure, New Study Finds

·5 min read
Where You Live Could Affect Your Blood Pressure, New Study Finds
  • A new study links exposure to traffic noise to high blood pressure.

  • Exposure to air pollution also raised the risk.

  • A growing body of evidence finds an association between noise pollution and high blood pressure.

Dealing with traffic noise is annoying, but new research shows it may actually increase your blood pressure.

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology analyzed data from more than 240,000 people in the UK Biobank, a long-term study in the United Kingdom. The participants were between the ages of 40 and 69, and didn’t have high blood pressure (a.k.a. hypertension) at the start of the study. The researchers then created road noise estimates based on where the participants lived and tracked them for about eight years.

The researchers discovered that people who lived near road noise were more likely to develop high blood pressure over time compared to their counterparts who lived on quieter streets. The risk of developing high blood pressure also increased the noisier a person’s street was. Worth noting: While the researchers controlled for air pollution, people who were exposed to both high levels of air pollution and high traffic noise had the greatest risk of developing hypertension.

“Road traffic noise and traffic-related air pollution coexist around us,” lead study author Jing Huang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences in the School of Public Health at Peking University in Beijing, China, said in a statement. “It is essential to explore the independent effects of road traffic noise, rather than the total environment.”

High blood pressure is a common and potentially deadly condition. It increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are two leading causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Whether you live on a noisy street or are just curious, here’s what could be behind the link between traffic noise and high blood pressure—and what to do if you’re concerned.

How does noise affect blood pressure?

It’s important to point out that this study didn’t prove that traffic noise caused high blood pressure in study participants—it merely found a link between the two. However, there is some data to show this may be more than a random coincidence.

A 2021 study published in the journal Hypertension evaluated regular blood pressure measurements from more than 6,700 people over about four years and found that people who were exposed to greater levels of noise had higher blood pressure levels. They also had a greater risk of developing treatment-resistant hypertension, which is blood pressure that stays high even when someone is given three different medications.

A 2018 study conducted by CDC researchers also found a link between noise and high blood pressure in people exposed to loud noise at work. (That study also found an association between noise and high cholesterol.)

The exact reason why this link exists hasn’t been parsed out, but experts aren’t shocked. “Some of the issue probably has to do with adrenaline in the system and different stimulants that are activated when you’re having noxious stimuli, like noise,” says Nicole Weinberg, M.D., a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.

Being exposed to traffic horns, running car engines, and other road noise is stressful, even if you don’t consciously realize it, she says—and all of that can raise your blood pressure risk.

There’s also a potential impact on your sleep, says Holly S. Andersen, M.D., attending cardiologist and associate professor of clinical medicine at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Noise can cause annoyance and sleep disturbance—both increase stress levels, which will increase our heart rate, [and] blood pressure, and cause our blood vessels to constrict,” she says. “This will then lead to inflammation in the body which is the gateway to disease.”

Can noise pollution cause high blood pressure?

Again, it’s hard to say that noise pollution will actually cause high blood pressure, but there is a link.

One scientific review published in the journal European Cardiology Review noted that in one study, every 5-decibel increase in long-term exposure to aircraft noise was linked to an 8% increased risk of developing hypertension. The review points out that traffic noise is annoying, and that chronic annoyance can lead to chronic stress…which is a risk factor for high blood pressure.

“There’s a lot of interplay here,” Dr. Weinberg says. “If you live in cities where there’s constant noise all the time, there’s never a restful time. That can really activate blood pressure.”

Dr. Andersen agrees. “Chronic noise can lead to chronic stress, and this can lead to a multitude of diseases,” she says.

What to do if you live in a noisy area

Experts say it’s important to do what you can to lower your exposure to noise. “People should appreciate how noise disturbs our brains and our bodies,” Dr. Weinberg says. “Diminish it with sound barriers—thicker doors, windows, or shades. Use earplugs if necessary.”

Even playing music you love over the noise can help, she says, adding, “music is healthy and homes filled with music are happier.”

But there’s also more to developing high blood pressure than living in a place with high traffic noise. The American Heart Association (AHA) has a laundry list of risk factors for developing hypertension. Those include:

  • A family history of high blood pressure

  • Age (the risk of hypertension increases as you get older)

  • Gender (men are more likely to have high blood pressure than women before age 64; women are more likely after that)

  • Race (Black people tend to develop high blood pressure more than people of other racial backgrounds)

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Lack of physical activity

  • An unhealthy diet

  • Having overweight or obesity

  • Drinking too much alcohol

  • Sleep apnea

  • High cholesterol

  • Diabetes

  • Smoking and tobacco use

  • Stress

If you live in a home where you’re regularly exposed to traffic noise, Dr. Weinberg recommends doing what you can to work on modifiable risk factors for high blood pressure, like working out regularly, eating a healthy diet, and limiting your alcohol use. “Make sure your other factors are well controlled,” she says.

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