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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 23:57 GMT
Overhead planes 'increase blood pressure'
Concorde
Low-flying planes are extremely noisy
Living close to a flight path may increase the risk of high blood pressure.

Researchers have found that the daily misery of the noise of aircraft flying overhead may be damaging to people's health.

They compared 266 people living close to Stockholm Arlanda Airport with almost 2,700 people who lived in another part of greater Stockholm well away from aircraft noise.


The noise from planes is relentless

Monica Robb
In areas subjected to average noise levels above 55 decibels or to maximum noise levels over 72 decibels, 20% of people had high blood pressure.

In less noisy areas the prevalence of high blood pressure was just 14%.

The researchers calculated that once other factors that were likely to have an impact on blood pressure were taken into consideration, people who lived in the noisiest areas were 80% more likely to suffer from hypertension.

The greatest effects seemed to be in areas of low average but high maximum noise.

There was no difference in risk between men and women, but older people and those with good hearing were more likely to report high blood pressure if they lived in areas blighted by aircraft noise.

Stress levels

The researchers, led by Dr Mats Rosenlund, of Stockholm County Council, suggest that aircraft noise cranks up stress levels.

Stress is a well known risk factor for high blood pressure, which in turn is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Dr Rosenlund said aircraft noise was likely to cause problems when it interfered with people's ability to think, relax or sleep.

He told BBC News Online: "Our study indicates a relationship between exposure to aircraft noise and hypertension, but our study has limitations that prevent us from concluding that the relationship we observed is in fact a causal relationship.

"There are very few studies made to investigate this relationship and it is impossible to draw firm conclusions until we see a few studies of high quality.

"But, if our results reflect an actual increase in blood pressure caused by exposure to flight path noise, you could say that flight path noise may increase the number of people having cardiovascular disease."

Reservations


Finding raised blood pressure in a population around an airport does not mean that noise is the culprit

Dr Sam Pattenden
Dr Sam Pattenden, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said he had reservations about the study.

He said: "Finding raised blood pressure in a population around an airport does not mean that noise is the culprit - there could be other factors to do with the airport, or even factors unconnected with it.

"It would be useful to have some studies which look at populations around several airports."

Monica Robb is vice chairman of HACAN Clear Skies, a group campaigning against a fifth terminal at London's Heathrow Airport.

She told BBC News Online there was already evidence that people living under flight paths were more prone to asthma and cancer.

"The finding of this study is totally believable. The noise from planes is relentless. Manufacturers say that individual planes are less noisy than they used to be, but there are now so many more of them.

"Noise is a tremendous irritant. I get phone calls from people in tears because their children are woken early in the morning by it."

The research is published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

See also:

20 Nov 00 | Health
Air crew 'cancer risk'
16 Nov 00 | Health
Aeroplane heart attack warning
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