American Heart Month: The Heart-Hearing Connection

The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) joins the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the American Heart Association (AHA) to promote American Heart Month in February and to educate the hearing health community about heart disease, with a focus on the connection between cardiovascular health and hearing health.

"Cardiovascular disease robs the life of about one American every minute, and heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women," said Sergei Kochkin, Ph.D., BHI's executive director. "Yet an alarming number of Americans don’t understand how serious the threat of heart disease is to them personally, or how closely intertwined it is with other health conditions, such as hearing health. We urge women and men alike to know their risks and to take action today to protect their heart – and hearing – health."

BHI also joins NHLBI and AHA to celebrate National Wear Red Day on Feb. 4, when Americans nationwide will wear red to show their support for women’s heart disease awareness.

The Heart-Hearing Connection

The inner ear is extremely sensitive to blood flow. Studies have shown that a healthy cardiovascular system – a person's heart, arteries and veins – has a positive effect on hearing. Conversely, inadequate blood flow and trauma to the blood vessels of the inner ear can contribute to hearing loss.

Some researchers hypothesize that because the inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow, abnormalities in the condition of blood vessels here could be noted earlier than in other, less sensitive parts of the body. In his study, David R. Friedland, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of otolaryngology and communication sciences at the Medical College of Wisconsin, hypothesized that low-frequency hearing loss may be a potential marker for predicting the presence or potential development of cardiovascular disease.

In a study published in the June 2010 issue of the American Journal of Audiology, Raymond H. Hull and Stacy R. Kerschen reviewed research that has been conducted over the past 60-plus years and found that the negative influence of impaired cardiovascular health on both the peripheral and central auditory system and the potential positive influence of improved cardiovascular health on these same systems has been found through a sizable body of research.

According to a study in older adults, the prevalence of suffering from various degrees of hearing loss is 54 percent greater among those who have a history of heart disease than in the general population. The study also indicated that individuals who exercised at least once a week saw a 32 percent reduction in the risk of suffering from hearing loss when compared to sedentary people. (As outlined in "The Association Between Cardiovascular Disease and Cochlear Function in Older Adults," Population Health Program Faculty, Wisconsin University, First Annual Population Health Poster Session selected abstracts 2001-2002.)

"Our participation in American Heart Month and National Wear Read Day enables the hearing health community to make an important contribution to saving millions of lives," said Kochkin. "This is an opportunity to highlight the connection that heart health has on hearing health and to empower people with that knowledge. People with heart disease should not have to contend with the additional toll that unaddressed hearing loss takes on their quality of life."

Heart Disease

According to NHLBI, family history of early heart disease and age are two key risk factors for heart disease. Controllable risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, overweight/obesity, physical inactivity and diabetes.

NHLBI says that the main warning signs for women and men are:

· Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve
discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes. It may feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. The discomfort may be mild or severe, and it may come and go.
· Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
· Shortness of breath. This may occur with or without chest discomfort.
· Other signs include nausea, light-headedness or breaking out in a cold sweat.

Hearing Loss

Numerous studies have linked untreated hearing loss to a wide range of physical and emotional conditions, including impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks, reduced alertness, increased risk to personal safety, irritability, negativism, anger, fatigue, tension, stress, depression and diminished psychological and overall health. But nine out of 10 hearing aid users report improvements in their quality of life.

BHI has made available a free, confidential online hearing test at http://www.hearingcheck.org to help people, including those with heart disease, determine if they need a comprehensive hearing check by a hearing professional.

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