Health Day - ONLINE EDITION

Everyday Noise Levels May Affect the Heart

Even not-so-loud sounds seemed to raise people's heart rate in small study

  • Print

THURSDAY, May 9 (HealthDay News) -- Even the minor noise that fills everyday life, from the ring of a cell phone to the conversation that follows, may have short-term effects on heart function, a small new study suggests.

In the study of 110 adults equipped with portable heart monitors, researchers found that people's heart rate tended to climb as their noise exposure increased -- even when the noise remained below 65 decibels. That's about as loud as a normal conversation or laughter.

There was also a negative impact on people's heart rate "variability" -- a measure of the heart's adaptation to what is going on around you. Greater variability in the interval between heartbeats is better. When people are relaxed, the space between heartbeats is usually a bit longer as they exhale, and shorter as they inhale.

When people are stressed, however, some of that natural variation is lost. And studies have linked lesser heart rate variability to an increased risk of heart attack.

So does all of this mean you need to wear earplugs to protect your heart? Probably not, experts say.

For any one person, the effects of everyday noise on heart function may be small, said Charlotta Eriksson, a researcher at the Karolinska Institute, in Stockholm, Sweden. Eriksson was not involved in the study.

But since we are all exposed to noise, even a minor effect on heart health could be important on the broad "population level," said Eriksson, who has studied the effects of loud traffic -- from roads or airports -- on people's blood pressure and heart function.

Research has consistently found links between loud workplaces and an increased risk of heart disease, said Dr. Wenqi Gan, a researcher at North Shore-LIJ Health System's Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, in Manhasset, N.Y.

The evidence is more mixed when it comes to "community noise," like traffic sounds, said Gan, whose own research has found a connection.

He said the mixed results may be because it's difficult to weed out the effects of community noise on individuals. You might live in a noisy section of a big city, but have good, sound-muffling windows, for example.

"And some people are more sensitive to noise than others," Gan said. If noise affects the heart by stressing people out, he said, then your personal sensitivity to it would be important.

The new findings, reported in the May issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, are based on 110 adults who wore portable devices that measured their heart activity and noise exposure during their normal daily routines.

What was "interesting," Eriksson said, is that lower-level noise seemed to curb activity in the parasympathetic nervous system -- the branch of the nervous system that acts as a "brake," lowering heart rate and relaxing the blood vessels, for example.

Louder noise, meanwhile, seemed to rev up the sympathetic nervous system -- the branch that boosts heart rate, constricts blood vessels and otherwise sends us into "fight or flight" mode.

The value of the findings is that they suggest a biological reason for why noise has been linked to ill heart effects, said Alexandra Schneider, one of the researchers in the Institute of Epidemiology at Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen, in Germany, who worked on the study.

"Our main focus was to find a possible mechanism that could be responsible for the observed health effects in other studies," Schneider said.

The study was not designed to offer people advice on how much noise is "bad" for their hearts, she said.

Gan agreed. "This study is a first step in exploring the underlying biological mechanisms for the association between noise exposure and cardiovascular disease," he said. "We need more studies like this."

A big question, said study author Schneider, is whether the short-term effects of noise, repeated over time, ultimately affect heart health -- particularly for people who already have chronic medical conditions.

Although the study tied increased noise exposure to a rise in heart rate, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more information on noise pollution.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Jim Flaherty remembered at visitation as irreplaceable

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A  young goose stuffed with bread from  St Vital park passers-by takes a nap in the shade Thursday near lunch  –see Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge Day 29-June 28, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What are you most looking forward to this Easter weekend?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google