Aircraft noise and cardiovascular disease near Heathrow airport in London: small area study

BMJ. 2013 Oct 8:347:f5432. doi: 10.1136/bmj.f5432.


Objective: To investigate the association of aircraft noise with risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease in the general population.

Design: Small area study.

Setting: 12 London boroughs and nine districts west of London exposed to aircraft noise related to Heathrow airport in London.

Population: About 3.6 million residents living near Heathrow airport. Risks for hospital admissions were assessed in 12 110 census output areas (average population about 300 inhabitants) and risks for mortality in 2378 super output areas (about 1500 inhabitants).

Main outcome measures: Risk of hospital admissions for, and mortality from, stroke, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease, 2001-05.

Results: Hospital admissions showed statistically significant linear trends (P<0.001 to P<0.05) of increasing risk with higher levels of both daytime (average A weighted equivalent noise 7 am to 11 pm, L(Aeq),16 h) and night time (11 pm to 7 am, Lnight) aircraft noise. When areas experiencing the highest levels of daytime aircraft noise were compared with those experiencing the lowest levels (>63 dB v ≤ 51 dB), the relative risk of hospital admissions for stroke was 1.24 (95% confidence interval 1.08 to 1.43), for coronary heart disease was 1.21 (1.12 to 1.31), and for cardiovascular disease was 1.14 (1.08 to 1.20) adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, deprivation, and a smoking proxy (lung cancer mortality) using a Poisson regression model including a random effect term to account for residual heterogeneity. Corresponding relative risks for mortality were of similar magnitude, although with wider confidence limits. Admissions for coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease were particularly affected by adjustment for South Asian ethnicity, which needs to be considered in interpretation. All results were robust to adjustment for particulate matter (PM10) air pollution, and road traffic noise, possible for London boroughs (population about 2.6 million). We could not distinguish between the effects of daytime or night time noise as these measures were highly correlated.

Conclusion: High levels of aircraft noise were associated with increased risks of stroke, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease for both hospital admissions and mortality in areas near Heathrow airport in London. As well as the possibility of causal associations, alternative explanations such as residual confounding and potential for ecological bias should be considered.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aircraft*
  • Airports*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • London / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morbidity / trends
  • Noise, Transportation / adverse effects*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Rural Population
  • Small-Area Analysis
  • Survival Rate / trends
  • Time Factors