Aircraft noise raises blood pressure

  • Deborah Condon

The noise from aircraft or traffic can raise a person’s blood pressure at night, even if it does not wake them, the results of a new study indicate.

A team of European researchers monitored 140 volunteers at their homes near London Heathrow Airport and three other major European airports. The volunteers’ blood pressure was measured at 15 minute intervals. This was then analysed in relation to the noise recorded in the volunteers’ bedrooms.

The study found that the participants’ blood pressure increased noticeably after they experienced a ‘noise event’. This was defined as a noise louder than 35 decibels, such as aircraft travelling overhead, traffic passing outside or a partner snoring.

The effect could be seen even if the volunteer remained asleep and so was not consciously disturbed.

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers, e.g. 120/80. The first figure is the systolic blood pressure (the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts and pushes the blood out into the body). The second figure is the diastolic blood pressure (the pressure in the arteries when the heart is filled with blood as it relaxes between two beats).

According to the World Health Organisation, high blood pressure is defined as 140/90mmHg or more.

The researchers found that aircraft noise events caused an average increase in systolic blood pressure of 6.2mmHg and an average increase in diastolic blood pressure of 7.4mmHg. Similar increases were seen for other noise sources, such as road traffic.

The researchers also found that the increase in blood pressure was related to the loudness of the noise. A greater increase in blood pressure could be seen when the noise level was higher. For example, for every five decibel increase in aircraft noise at its loudest point, there was an increase of 0.66mmHg in systolic blood pressure.

The decibel level, not the origin of the sound, was the key factor in determining the effect that each noise event had on the volunteers’ blood pressure. In other words, there were similar effects regardless of the type of noise, where the ‘loudness’ of the noise was the same.

The research follows recent findings by the same researchers, showing that people who have been living for at least five years near an international airport, under a flight path, have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure, compared to people living in quieter areas.

That study, which was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, showed that an increase in night-time airplane noise of 10 decibels increased the risk of high blood pressure by 14% in both men and women.

“We know that noise from air traffic can be a source of irritation, but our research shows that it can also be damaging for people's health, which is particularly significant in light of plans to expand international airports. Our studies show that night-time aircraft noise can affect your blood pressure instantly and increase the risk of hypertension”, said Dr Lars Jarup of Imperial College London.

He added that measures need to be taken to reduce noise levels from aircraft, particularly at night, ‘in order to protect the health of people living near airports’.

The researchers are continuing their studies to find out whether combined exposure to noise and air pollution increases the risk of heart disease.

Details of these findings are published in the European Heart Journal.

For more information on heart health, see our Heart Disease Clinic at


Noise off - 14/02/2008 21:36

My friend moved from beside Dublin Airport because of aircraft noise. What about noisy neighbours in apartments, one party can wake 100 people. Police don't want to know and recommend not to approach partying people. management co's incompetent.

Tara - 15/02/2008 10:00

I can understand that noise would cause blood pressure but does this just happen with aircraft noise. I find my heart racign when I have been awakened suddenly by any noise - even my alarm clock, as opposed to waking suddenly. With regard to your partying neighbours noise off - unless they are being disorderly or breaching the peace, then it is a civil matter and there is nothing the police can do. Altho' to be honest a solicitors letter - if a solicitor will agree to that may only end up just antagonising them. If they are reasonable,it may be worth your while talkign to tem in a neighbourly manner, if they are havign loud parties every night. Alternately if thy are new to the area and only have parties on weekend, this may settle down when they are there a while and to be honest, there is nothing you can do about it except wait (or get yourself invited!). That is the disadvantage of apartment living.

Lemmy - 15/02/2008 11:01

speaking from experience, if you have a problem with neighbours throwing parties, contact their landlord (assuming they're renting) most landlords will have a very dim view of tennants throwing parties. I was having problems with a young couple living above me, I raised the issue with them first, they promised it wouldn't happen again, after a few more parties, I contacted their landlord, the problem was sorted very quickly

Tara - 15/02/2008 11:06

Actually I hadn't thought of them as being renters as so many apartments are owner occupied now. Good point Lemmy

unproud TB Irish - 15/02/2008 18:26

If i got invited to the wild party in apt. my blood pressure would double and then i'd be offered coke - have a heart attack - and die- only then would i rest easy. i hate the way this country is so lawless. If i was free i'd move to an organised place. Anyone know any law abiding crime free countries to live?

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