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Working in a noisy environment increases the likelihood of developing heart disease, according to a study by Canadian researchers.

They used data from more than 6,000 American employees who took part in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2004.

The analysis, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, revealed that people who toiled away in persistently noisy workplaces were two to three times more likely to have serious heart problems compared with those who laboured in relatively quiet settings. For the purposes of the study, a workplace was considered to be noisy if the workers had to raise their voices to be heard, explained the lead researcher, Wenqi Gan of the University of British Columbia.

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Young male workers, under the age of 50, seem to be especially vulnerable, according to the findings. Of course, smoking itself pushes up a person's odds of developing cardiovascular disease. But noise appears to increase the risk even more than could be accounted for by smoking.

Dr. Gan speculates that persistently loud sounds may lead to a state of chronic stress, which, in turn, could set the stage for cardiovascular illness.

He says workers should wear protective earplugs or earmuffs to shield themselves from the sound. "But the protection is limited," he noted. It is more important to design equipment that is less noisy and adjust the job to minimize the time exposed to potentially hazardous sounds.

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