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Air pollution raises blood pressure, says new study

Harald Franzen
October 26, 2016

It comes as no surprise that excessive noise levels can cause high blood pressure, but now a new study is claiming that air pollution can have the same effect.

Mexiko Smog in Mexico City
Image: Getty Images/AFP/H. Guerrero

A new study by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) is linking air pollution and traffic noise to an increased risk of high blood pressure. It might seem obvious that traffic noise causes stress and hence increases the risk of high blood pressure but interestingly, the researchers found that even air pollution alone can have that effect.

"Exposure to traffic noise shares many of the same sources with air pollution and so has the potential to confound the estimates of the adverse effects of pollution on human health," says Barbara Hoffmann, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology at the Centre for Health and Society at Heinrich-Heine-University of Düsseldorf, Germany, who led the analysis. "However, this study controlled for traffic noise exposure and found that the associations of air pollution with hypertension did not vanish. This is important because preventive measures for air pollution and noise differ."

The extensive study looked at more than 41,000 people in five European countries who did not report suffering from hypertension or high blood pressure at the beginning of the study. After five to nine years, 15 percent of them reported having hypertension. It should be noted that in some cases, the researchers detected hypertension in individuals but in a significant number of cases, study participants themselves reported suffering from hypertension or it was inferred that they suffered from it because they were taking medication for hypertension.

Based on the incidence of cases of hypertension among participants and air pollution measured, the study's authors concluded that for every additional five micrograms of particulate matter in the air, the risk of hypertension increased by more than a fifth. And it didn't merely affect people living in heavily polluted areas.

"One very important aspect is that these associations can be seen in people living well below current European air pollution standards," Hoffmann said. "Given the ubiquitous presence of air pollution and the importance of hypertension as the most important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, these results have important public health consequences and call for more stringent air quality regulations."