Effects of air pollution on heart rate variability: the VA normative aging study

Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Mar;113(3):304-9. doi: 10.1289/ehp.7447.


Reduced heart rate variability (HRV), a marker of poor cardiac autonomic function, has been associated with air pollution, especially fine particulate matter [< 2.5 microm in aerodynamic diameter (PM2.5)]. We examined the relationship between HRV [standard deviation of normal-to-normal intervals (SDNN), power in high frequency (HF) and low frequency (LF), and LF:HF ratio] and ambient air pollutants in 497 men from the Normative Aging Study in greater Boston, Massachusetts, seen between November 2000 and October 2003. We examined 4-hr, 24-hr, and 48-hr moving averages of air pollution (PM2.5, particle number concentration, black carbon, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide). Controlling for potential confounders, HF decreased 20.8% [95% confidence interval (CI), 4.6-34.2%] and LF:HF ratio increased 18.6% (95% CI, 4.1-35.2%) per SD (8 microg/m3) increase in 48-hr PM2.5. LF was reduced by 11.5% (95% CI, 0.4-21.3%) per SD (13 ppb) increment in 4-hr O3. The associations between HRV and PM2.5 and O3 were stronger in people with ischemic heart disease (IHD) and hypertension. The associations observed between SDNN and LF and PM2.5 were stronger in people with diabetes. People using calcium-channel blockers and beta-blockers had lower associations between O3 and PM2.5 with LF. No effect modification by other cardiac medications was found. Exposures to PM2.5 and O3 are associated with decreased HRV, and history of IHD, hypertension, and diabetes may confer susceptibility to autonomic dysfunction by air pollution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging
  • Air Pollutants / poisoning*
  • Calcium Channel Blockers / therapeutic use
  • Heart Diseases / etiology*
  • Heart Rate*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / etiology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Oxidants, Photochemical / poisoning
  • Ozone / poisoning
  • Particle Size
  • Reference Values
  • Risk Assessment
  • Veterans*


  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists
  • Air Pollutants
  • Calcium Channel Blockers
  • Oxidants, Photochemical
  • Ozone