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Noise, dirty air may be double whammy for the heart

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MONDAY, May 20 (HealthDay News) -- Air pollution and noise pollution both may boost the risk of heart disease, new research from Germany suggests.

"Many studies have looked at air pollution, while others have looked at noise pollution," said Dr. Barbara Hoffmann, a professor of environmental epidemiology at IUF Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine and lead author of the new study.

"This study looked at both at the same time and found that each form of pollution was independently associated with subclinical atherosclerosis," Hoffmann said. Atherosclerosis is also known as hardening of the arteries.

Hoffmann and her colleagues are scheduled to present their findings Monday in Philadelphia at a meeting of the American Thoracic Society.

The researchers analyzed data from a continuing population study underway in the Ruhr region of Germany. The data covered how exposure to fine particle pollution and long-term traffic noise exposure affected cardiovascular risk among more than 4,200 residents, average age 60, of three cities in the vicinity.

After controlling for age, gender, smoking status, physical activity, alcohol use and other factors that could affect the results, the team found that air and noise pollution significantly boosted a clinical measure of arterial hardening known as the "thoracic aortic calcification," or TAC.

While local air pollution was found to drive up TAC among the study participants by an average of nearly 20 percent, local noise pollution drove up TAC by roughly 8 percent, the investigators found.

"Both exposures seem to be important, and both must be considered on a population level, rather than focusing on just one hazard," said Hoffmann in a news release from the Thoracic Society. She said she plans to investigate the effect of both variables over a longer period of time.

Dr. Philip Harber, a professor of public health at the University of Arizona, said the study is important "because it says that both air pollution and noise pollution represent important health problems."

Harber, who was not involved in the study, said the findings could clear up common misperceptions. "In the past, some air pollution studies have been dismissed because critics said it was probably the noise pollution that caused the harm, and vice versa. Now we know that people who live near highways, for instance, are being harmed by air pollution and by noise pollution," he said in the news release.

Although the study found an association between exposure to noise and air pollution and arterial hardening, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

For more on air pollution, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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