Long-term exposure to air pollution and traffic noise affects blood pressure

25 October 2016        

Category: BHF Comment

Lots of traffic on a busy road

Long-term exposure to air pollution is linked to a greater incidence of high blood pressure, according to the largest study to investigate the effects of both air pollution and traffic noise.

The study, carried out at the Centre for Health and Society at Heinrich-Heine-University of Düsseldorf, Germany, was published today in the European Heart Journal. The study followed over 41,000 people in five different countries for five to nine years.

What did the study find?

The study found that among adults, up to one extra person per 100 people of the same age group living in the most polluted areas of cities would develop high blood pressure (hypertension) compared to those living in the less polluted areas.

For exposure to chronic traffic noise, the researchers found that people living in noisy streets, where there were average night time noise levels of 50 decibels, had a six percent increased risk of developing high blood pressure compared to those living on quieter streets where average noise levels were 40 decibels during the night.

What does the BHF think?

 Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director said:

“High blood pressure is a silent killer. You may not notice you have it, but it can increase your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke which is why managing your blood pressure is so important. This large study shows that people who are exposed to higher levels of vehicle-derived pollution are slightly more likely to have high blood pressure, a known risk factor for heart disease.

"However, the authors only found a significant relationship between high blood pressure and air pollution when using self-reported data rather than measured blood pressure, which raises questions about the strength of their main conclusion. The authors themselves are cautious about the strength of their conclusion that effects of traffic noise on blood pressure can be separately detected.

“The study should therefore be seen as a further pointer to adverse effects of pollution on cardiovascular health, reinforcing current views that maximum exposure levels currently recommended by the EU are not low enough to minimise risk.

“Air pollution, particularly from small particles in diesel fumes, is known to increase a person’s risk of heart attacks and strokes. Thanks to the support and generosity of the public the BHF is funding research which looks at how air pollution causes abnormalities in the blood vessels, however, further research is needed to understand exactly how air pollutants can increase blood pressure and how important their effects are on cardiovascular health.”

For more information

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke. Up to 7 million people are thought to be living with undiagnosed high blood pressure in the UK.

Find out more about blood pressure