Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is the most common type of heart arrhythmia. About 2.7 to 6.1 million people in the United States have AFib, and with the aging population, this number is expected to increase.

Over the past two decades, AFib has become one of the most important public health problems. The prevalence of this arrhythmia (2 percent) is double that reported in the last decade, and varies with age and sex.

AFib is present in 0.12 percent to 0.16 percent of those younger than 49 years; in 3.7 percent to 4.2 percent of those aged 60 to 70 years; and in 10 percent to 17 percent of those aged 80 years or older. Untreated, AFib doubles the risk of heart-related deaths and is associated with a five-fold increased risk for stroke.

AFib can occur because the heart's electrical system has been damaged, typically from other conditions that affect the heart, such as hypertension and coronary heart disease. But in at least 1 of every 10 AFib cases, other causes may be at play and often, physicians cannot determine what is causing a patient’s AFib.

Previous studies have shown a connection between noise and vascular disease in healthy volunteers and patients with established coronary artery disease.

Interestingly, in a recent study, scientists discovered that noise may throw the heart out of rhythm. Scientists from the Department of Cardiology at the Mainz University Medical Center in Germany investigated the existence of an association between noise annoyance and AFib for the first time.

Cross-sectional data from 14,639 participants of the Gutenberg Health Study were collected between 2007 and 2012. T

he effects of noise pollution have been a subject of research within the framework of the Gutenberg Health Study, one of the world's largest studies of its kind, including more than 15,000 men and women aged 35 to 74 from the state capital of Rhineland-Palatinate and the district of Mainz-Bingen.

Annoyance from road traffic, aircraft, railways, industrial/construction and neighborhood noise during daytime and sleep were collected from all participants through questionnaires using a five-point scale. AFib was assessed by self-reported medical history and/or documentation of AFib on the study's electrocardiograms.

Study results showed that 80 percent of the participants were annoyed by noise to a certain degree. The major sources of annoyance during daytime and sleep were aircraft, road traffic and neighborhood noise.

Different degrees of annoyance were not associated with changes in cardiovascular risk factors. Scientists found that the incidence of AFib in participants with extreme noise annoyance reactions increases to 23 percent, compared to just 15 percent without this environmental impact.

Looking at the proportion of sources of extreme noise pollution, aircraft noise came first with 84 percent during the day and 69 percent during sleep.

The study shows for the first time that noise annoyance caused by various noise sources is associated with an increased risk of AFib. According to study leader Omar Hahad, research associate at the Department of Cardiology, the study demonstrates a stronger influence of annoyance caused by nocturnal noise on the heart rhythm.