Prolonged exposure to air pollution and traffic noise may increase the risk of heart failure in women, according to a study released Wednesday.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that as the level of exposure to both road noise and two common air pollutants rose, so too did the heart’s ability to pump blood properly. The air pollutants examined were fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.
While the researchers found that air pollution had a greater impact than road noise, they observed that women exposed to high levels of both were more likely to develop heart failure.
"We were surprised by how two environmental factors — air pollution and road traffic noise — interacted," lead author Youn-Hee Lim, an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said in a news release.
Researchers analyzed data on 22,000 women ages 44 and older who had been followed for more than 20 years as part of a larger “Danish Nurse Cohort,” a register through which Danish Nurse Organization members gave permission to track their health data for research purposes.
The University of Copenhagen researchers found that increased exposure to fine particulate matter over a three-year period increased the risk of developing heart failure by 17 percent. Meanwhile, higher nitrogen dioxide exposure raised the risk of heart failure by 10 percent.
For road noise, heart failure risks rose 12 percent for every 9.3 decibel increase in exposure, the researchers found.
Lim and her team also identified several external variables that played an influential role, with the biggest effects arising among former smokers. When these individuals were exposed to fine particulate matter, their risk of heart failure increased by 72 percent.
Hypertension also likely played a role, researchers said, as about 12 percent of the participants had high blood pressure when they enrolled in the study, and 30 percent of those diagnosed with heart failure had a history of the condition.
"To minimize the impact of these exposures, broad public tactics such as emissions control measures should be implemented,” Lim said. “Strategies like smoking cessation and blood pressure control must be encouraged to help reduce individual risk."