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Stroke and Hypertension

Recent research has highlighted the links between noise and high blood pressure. With both World Hypertension Day and Action on Stroke Month during May, employers need to be doing more to highlight the dangers of this “invisible killer”.

Employee health and wellbeing

Workers who are exposed to high amounts of noise on the job are more likely to develop high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, a US study has suggested.

With World Hypertension Day taking place on May 17, and May also being The Stroke Association’s Action on Stroke Month, this month is a great opportunity to highlight the dangers of high blood pressure, often seen as an “invisible killer” as there will often be no symptoms.

The latest study, from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, Ohio, concluded that, while it has long been recognised noisy jobs can be associated with hearing difficulties, evidence is growing of the contribution of louder working conditions to other risk factors, such as heart disease and elevated blood pressure.

“A significant percentage of the workers we studied have hearing difficulty, high blood pressure and high cholesterol that could be attributed to noise at work,” said the institute’s Elizabeth Masterson, co-author of the study.

For the study, the researchers examined survey data from 22,906 adults, where one in four reported exposure to occupational noise at some point in the past, and 14% had experienced loud work conditions in the previous year.

Industries with the most noise exposure included mining, construction and manufacturing. Overall, 12% of participants had hearing difficulties, 24% had high blood pressure, 28% had high cholesterol and 4% had experienced a major cardiovascular problem like a heart attack or stroke.

After accounting for participants’ other risk factors, the researchers attributed 58% of the cases of hearing difficulty, 14% of the instances of high blood pressure and 9% of the elevated cholesterol cases to exposure to occupational noise.

Value of hearing tests

The researchers emphasised, however, that they were not making a clear link between noisy work conditions and heart disease, heart attacks or strokes. But they did recommend the value of routine hearing tests.

Noise, however, is not the only environmental factor increasingly becoming recognised as a risk factor for high blood pressure and hypertension.

Studies have also suggested there may be links between prolonged exposure to solvents and elevated blood pressure.

And then, of course, there are the well-recognised links between high blood pressure and lifestyle factors such as over-sedentary lives, smoking, and alcohol consumption.

What, then, should employers be doing about this?

First, it self-evidently makes sense to use May’s awareness dates as a springboard to opening conversations around blood pressure, to prioritise health promotion and education messages around blood pressure and hypertension, as well as potentially organising fundraising initiatives and other workplace activities.

The fact high blood pressure can be symptomless makes it especially challenging to manage from a health perspective. Yet, as the NHS highlights, raised blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Environmental and lifestyle factors

More widely, there is a lot employers can do to promote a more blood pressure-friendly environment, including encourage more active working days and healthier lifestyles generally.

Ultimately, as Dr Lucy Wright, Chief Medical Officer at Optima Health, highlights, it is about taking an holistic approach and encouraging employees to look after themselves.

“High blood pressure, it is increasingly clear, can be caused by a variety of environmental and lifestyle factors. For employers, it is therefore about putting in place the tools to manage these as best they can, and encouraging employees to make the lifestyle changes that will make a difference.

“For older employees, aged over 40, encouraging them to have an NHS health check ‘MOT’ can also sometimes serve as a valuable wake-up call that their blood pressure is not as it should be, and that they need to be re-evaluating their lifestyle and habits to make the changes they need,” she adds.