- Combination of noise and air pollution increases the risk of heart failure in women
- Scientists looked at data collected from 20,000 Danish nurses over 20 years
- Findings prompt medics to take tough measures to cut urban pollution
One study suggests that living in a crowded city for just three years can increase your risk of heart failure.
A damaging body of evidence has built up over the past decade on the causes of health-threatening pollution, with toxic air being linked to dementia, obesity, infertility and many other medical issues.
Researchers in Denmark have now calculated the risk of heart failure from three types of urban pollution after tracking 22,000 women living in both cities and rural areas for nearly two decades.
Women exposed to high levels of the two most common pollutants as well as loud noises were 43 percent more likely to have heart failure. Their exposure increased in line with the level of pollution they were exposed to.
The environmental charity called the findings ‘disturbing’, claiming they offered even more evidence of an ‘urgent need’ to tackle pollution.
The risk of heart failure was increased by 43 percent in a study of Danish women, both from pollution from traffic, material from exhaust pipes and the noise generated by engines.
Air pollution increases the risk of many conditions, including heart attack, stroke and diabetes
What is particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide?
Particulate matter (PM) is everything in the air that is not a gas.
It contains a variety of chemicals and ingredients, some of which can be toxic.
Because of the small size of many of the particles that make up PM, some of these toxins can enter the bloodstream and be carried around the body to the heart, brain, and other organs.
Therefore, exposure to PM can have serious health implications, especially in vulnerable groups of young, elderly and people with respiratory problems.
Meanwhile, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a gas mainly produced during the combustion of fossil fuels.
Short-term exposure to concentrations of NO can cause inflammation of the airways and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections and allergies.
NO2 can exacerbate symptoms in people who already suffer from lung or heart conditions.
Heart failure occurs when vital organs struggle to pump blood throughout the body, leading to fatigue, fatigue and breathlessness – making even simple tasks difficult.
The condition affects the lives of more than 900,000 Britons and more than 28 million people in the United States. It is often caused by high blood pressure and can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Air pollution can cause hardening of the arteries, which can lead to the formation of blood clots – which increases the risk of many heart problems.
Noise pollution can disrupt sleep, and chronic noise has been found to affect heart health and brain function by adding stress to the body.
The latest study, by experts from the University of Copenhagen, was published in Journal of the American Heart Association.
The scientists measured an annual average of air and noise pollution levels at women’s addresses from the late 90s to 2014.
They then plotted these levels of contamination as a three-year average and calculated the subsequent risk of heart failure for the participants.
They found that for every 5.1 microgram per cubic meter increase in average fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the risk of heart failure in women increased by 17 percent.
PM2.5 are tiny particulates of pollution and are mainly emitted by burning diesel and petrol.
Another type of traffic pollution, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), was also associated with an increased risk of heart failure.
The scientists found that for every 8.6μg/m3 increase in average NO2 exposure, the risk of heart failure increased by 10 percent.
It was not just air pollution that affected women’s health, noise pollution was also claiming a toll.
For every 9.3dB increase in average traffic noise for 24 hours a day, the risk of heart failure increased by 12 percent.
Dr. Eun-hee Lim and colleagues also found that the effects of these pollutants were worse when combined.
Women who were exposed to high levels of all three types of pollution over three years were 43 percent more likely to have heart failure.
The effects were even worse for women who were former smokers or who had high blood pressure.
Dr Lim said: ‘To reduce the impact of these risks, a comprehensive public strategy such as emissions control measures should be implemented.
‘Strategies such as smoking cessation and blood pressure control should be encouraged to help reduce individual risk.’
The city-wide average for PM2.5 in London in the 2020 report was 11.6μg/m3 and for NO2 emissions it was 39μg/m3. Levels can fluctuate depending on a number of factors, including traffic levels.
And a 2018 report from London’s government found that 29 percent of the city’s 885 parks had noise levels from nearby traffic of more than 55dB.
The researchers noted that there were some limitations to their work, which recruited women who were at least 44 years old between 1993 and 1999.
They said they did not account for indoor pollution, for example from cooking, or whether factors such as having double-glazed windows in the home could affect the ambient noise pollution that women were exposed to.
But given the well-established body of evidence on the negative effects of pollution on both children and adults, there is no reason to suspect that their findings will have no effect on other genders and age groups.
Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth argued that the findings suggest that more needs to be done to make the air cleaner.
“This is even more disturbing evidence of the urgent need for tougher measures to reduce air pollution,” a spokesperson said.