What is cardiovascular disease?
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As temperatures drop in the winter many of us experience associated illnesses, such as colds and flu. Similarly if temperatures become especially high in the summer, there are often concerns over dehydration and heat exhaustion. But now a new study has shown that extreme weather could have an even more serious impact on our bodies.
Research published today (December 12) in the Circulation journal revealed that extremely hot and cold temperatures increased the risk of death among people with cardiovascular diseases.
These diseases include ischemic heart disease (heart problems caused by narrowed heart arteries), stroke, heart failure and arrhythmia.
Of these, heart failure was linked to the highest number of excess deaths from extreme weather – with 2.6 additional deaths on extreme hot days and 12.8 on extreme cold days.
It comes as the UK has recently experienced temperatures as low as -15C, and saw record breaking high temperatures this summer – as extreme as 40C.
As part of the study, researchers explored how extreme temperatures may affect heart diseases, which is the leading cause of death globally.
To do so they analysed data on more than 32 million cardiovascular deaths that occurred in across 567 cities in 27 countries, between 1979 and 2019.
For every 1,000 cardiovascular deaths recorded, the researchers found that:
- Extreme hot days accounted for 2.2 additional deaths
- Extreme cold days accounted for 9.1 additional deaths.
Co-author of the study and cardiovascular disease fellow at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Centre in Baltimore, Haitham Khraishah, explained: “One in every 100 cardiovascular deaths may be attributed to extreme temperature days, and temperature effects were more pronounced when looking at heart failure deaths.
“While we do not know the reason, this may be explained by the progressive nature of heart failure as a disease, rendering patients susceptible to temperature effects.
“This is an important finding since one out of four people with heart failure are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge, and only 20 percent of patients with heart failure survive 10 years after diagnosis.”
The impact of climate change
The team examined “substantial” swings in both hot and cold temperatures as part of the study, with an aim to understand how climate change could impact public health in the future.
Therefore, researchers compared cardiovascular deaths on the hottest and the coldest 2.5 percent of days with what is considered “optimal” temperature (the temperature associated with the least rates of deaths) in the same cities.
Research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, Barrak Alahmad, said: “The decline in cardiovascular death rates since the 1960s is a huge public health success story as cardiologists identified and addressed individual risk factors such as tobacco, physical inactivity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and others.
“The current challenge now is the environment and what climate change might hold for us.
“We need to be on top of emerging environmental exposures. I call upon the professional cardiology organisations to commission guidelines and scientific statements on the intersection of extreme temperatures and cardiovascular health.
“In such statements, we may provide more direction to health care professionals, as well as identify clinical data gaps and future priorities for research.”
Cardiovascular disease refers to a range of conditions that affect your heart or circulation.
These include heart failure, peripheral vascular disease and rheumatic heart disease.
Symptoms of cardiovascular disease will depend on which you have but can include:
- Chest pain
- Pain, weakness or numb legs and/or arms
- Very fast or slow heartbeat, or palpitations
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded or faint
- Swollen limbs.
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