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Short-Term Effects of Air Pollution on Heart Rate Variability in Senior Adults in Steubenville, Ohio

Luttmann-Gibson, Heike PhD; Suh, Helen H. ScD; Coull, Brent A. PhD; Dockery, Douglas W. ScD; Sarnat, Stefanie E. ScD; Schwartz, Joel PhD; Stone, Peter H. MD; Gold, Diane R. MD

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: August 2006 - Volume 48 - Issue 8 - p 780-788
doi: 10.1097/01.jom.0000229781.27181.7d
Original Articles

Objective: We examined the association between ambient air pollution levels and heart rate variability (HRV) in a panel study of 32 subjects.

Methods: We used linear mixed models to analyze the effects of fine particles (PM2.5), sulfate (SO42−), elemental carbon (EC), and gases on log-transformed standard deviation of normal RR intervals (SDNN), mean square of differences between adjacent RR intervals (r-MSSD), and high- and low-frequency power (HF, LF).

Results: An interquartile range (IQR) increase of 5.1 μg/m3 in SO42− on the previous day was associated with a decrease of −3.3% SDNN (95% confidence = −6.0% to −0.5%), −5.6% r-MSSD (−10.7% to −0.2%), and −10.3% HF (−19.5% to −0.1%). Associations with total PM2.5 were similar. HRV was not associated with EC, NO2, SO2, or O3.

Conclusion: In addition to traffic-related particles, elevated levels of sulfate particles may also adversely affect autonomic function.

From the Departments of Environmental Health (Dr Luttmann-Gibson, Ms Suh, Mr Dockery, Ms Sarnat, Mr Schwartz, Ms Gold) and Biostatistics (Mr Coull), Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts; Channing Laboratory, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts (Mr Dockery, Mr Schwartz, Ms Gold); the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia (Ms Sarnat); and the Cardiovascular Division, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts (Mr Stone).

CME Available for this Article at

This work is supported by funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (ES-09825 and ES-00002), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (R826780-01-0 and R827353-01-0), the Ohio Coal Development Office (CDO/D-98-2), and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory Award No. DE-FC26-00NT40771.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Heike Luttmann-Gibson has no commercial interest related to this article.

Address correspondence to: Heike Luttmann-Gibson, PhD, Harvard School of Public Health, 401 Park Drive, Suite 415, Boston, MA 02215; E-mail:

©2006The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine