According to a new study, people living in naturally hot regions may be especially vulnerable to heat-related cardiovascular diseases (CVD).
The study indicates that when daily temperatures average over 43 degrees centigrade, cardiovascular disease deaths could double or triple. In their study published in ‘Circulation’, the premier journal of the American Heart Foundation, researchers note that these findings raise concerns that traditionally hot regions may be vulnerable to heat-related cardiovascular deaths.
During the summer of 2016, Kuwait recorded the highest temperature on earth in the last 76 years, of 54 degrees centigrade. Peak summer temperatures have hovered around this record figure in subsequent years. In 2021, Kuwait's average maximum temperature reached an all-time high of 34.5 degrees centigrade.
Kuwait consistently experiences high temperatures, leading researchers to examine the relationship between temperature and more than 15,000 cardiovascular-related deaths. All death certificates in Kuwait from 2010 to 2016 that cited ‘any cardiovascular cause’ for death, among individuals aged 15 and older were reviewed in the study. The study found that when the number of deaths on days when the average daily temperature was 34.5 degrees centigrade, was compared to the number of deaths when daily temperatures averaged around 43 degrees centigrade, there was:
- Overall, a 3-times more likely risk of dying from any cardiovascular cause
- Men were more affected by extreme temperatures, experiencing a 3.5 times higher death rate
- Women died at 2.5 times higher;
- Working-age people (ages 15-64 years) had a death rate 3.8 times higher
- The death rate was 2-times higher for people 65 and older.
Other environmental factors, such as air pollution and humidity, were adjusted for in order to examine the effects of temperature alone. They found that higher temperatures affected both genders and all ages differently.
While cardiologists and other medical doctors have rightly focused on traditional risk factors, such as diet, blood pressure and tobacco use, climate change and subsequent higher average temperatures, especially in very hot regions of the world, may exacerbate the burden of cardiovascular mortality,” said Barrak Alahmad, MD, MPH, Phd, who holds a medical degree from the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom, a Master of Public Health (MPH) from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and a PhD in Population Health Sciences from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the United States.
During times of high body temperature, the human body shifts blood from the organs to beneath the skin in an attempt to cool itself. This shift causes the heart to pump more blood, putting it under significantly more stress. A collaborative group of cardiologists, environmental health specialists and epidemiologists hypothesized that increasing temperatures in hotter regions of the world could lead to increased CVD deaths. This is due to extreme heat’s effects on the body.
There is not an even distribution of the warming of our planet. Regions that are inherently hot, like Kuwait and the Arabian Peninsula, witness soaring temperatures unlike ever before. We are sounding the alarm that populations in this part of the world could be at higher risk of dying from cardiovascular causes due to heat,” said Ahmad. “Although we cannot conclude from this analysis, men and working-age people may have been at greater risk because of spending more time outside. We need to explore this relationship further and consider serious preventive strategies that could reduce the impact of rising temperatures on our health,” he added.
Since the study examined only cardiovascular causes of death, it is unclear whether any specific type of heart disorder is more vulnerable to extreme heat. Even though the researchers found an association between extremely high temperatures and cardiovascular deaths, they acknowledged that further research would be needed to establish a true cause-and-effect relationship.
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