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The high levels of environmental noise we are subjected to in large cities can increase both the severity and consequences of an ischaemic stroke. More precisely, researchers from the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) and doctors from Hospital del Mar, together with researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), CIBER in Epidemiology and Public Health (CIBERESP), and Brown University, in the United States, put the increased risk at 30% for people living in noisier areas. In contrast, living close to green areas brings down this risk by up to 25%. This is the first time that these factors have been analysed in relation to stroke severity. The study has been published in the journal Environmental Research.

The researchers looked at the influence of noise levels, air pollution (particularly suspended particles smaller than 2.5 microns; PM2.5), and exposure to green areas on nearly 3,000 ischaemic stroke patients treated at Hospital del Mar between 2005 and 2014. To do this, they used data from the Cartographic Institute of Catalonia, as well as models to analyse atmospheric pollutant levels, the noise map of Barcelona, and satellite images to define areas with vegetation. Also taken into account was the socioeconomic level of the place the patients lived.

Dr. Rosa María Vivanco, from the IMIM’s Neurovascular Research Group and first author of the study, points out that the study gives us initial insight into how noise levels and exposure to green spaces influences the severity of ischaemic stroke. “We have observed a gradient: the more green spaces, the less serious the stroke. And the more noise, the more serious it is. This suggests that factors other than those traditionally associated with stroke may play an independent role in the condition,” she explains. At the same time, Dr. Xavier Basagaña, one of the authors of the study and a researcher at ISGlobal, a centre supported by “la Caixa,” stresses that “exposure to green spaces can benefit human health through various mechanisms. For example, it can reduce stress, encourage social interaction, and increase levels of physical activity.” However, in this study no link was seen with atmospheric pollution. The researchers warn that one of the limitations of the work was the lack of variability in pollutant concentrations to which the study population is exposed. This made it difficult to draw conclusions, and they point out that more studies are needed in this field.

More noise, greater stroke severity

“Previous studies have demonstrated that living in places with high levels of air pollution or noise, or with fewer green areas, exposes the population to a higher risk of suffering an ischaemic stroke. This work broadens our knowledge in this field, showing that the place where we live affects not only the risk of suffering a stroke, but also its severity if it occurs,” explains Dr Gregory A. Wellenius, from the Epidemiology Department at Brown University and final author of the study. In this sense, the results indicate that patients living in noisier areas presented more severe strokes on arrival at hospital.

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