September 6, 2021

Medical diagnoses in musicians

Vanderbilt researchers mined electronic health records to find medical diagnoses that are more or less prevalent among musicians, who are present in large numbers in “Music City.”

by Leigh MacMillan

Musicians face training and professional demands that may put them at higher risk for certain medical problems, but previous studies have been limited by small sample sizes and lack of controls. 

The large population of working musicians in Nashville — “Music City” — enabled an extensive study of medical diagnoses in musicians using PheWAS (phenome-wide association study) approaches and de-identified electronic health records (EHRs) from Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Maria Niarchou, PhD, and colleagues first created and validated a keyword-based search to identify musicians, and then analyzed phenotypes (diagnoses). They replicated previous associations and detected novel associations among 14,379 musician patients with 71,895 matched controls. 

Diseases of the larynx and vocal cords, and hearing loss, were among 257 diagnoses that were more prevalent in musicians. Coronary atherosclerosis and renal failure were less prevalent, suggesting a protective effect of musicianship. 

The study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences could aid clinicians in personalizing treatment for musicians, and it supports using PheWAS and EHRs to identify medical disorders associated with specific occupations. 

Reyna Gordon, PhD, and Lea Davis, PhD, join Niarchou as corresponding authors of the report. Other authors are George Lin and Miriam Lense, PhD. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants HD098859, MH118223, DC016977, MH120736).