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Experts warn of physical and mental health effects of extreme heat

In an online briefing hosted by SciLine last week, doctors warned about the effects of extreme heat on physical and mental health, especially for vulnerable people.

” said Perry Sheffield, MD, MPH, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, we know that about 30 people die each year [of which] … she noted , even if it’s below 70°F outside. “So whether heat plays a role and how it works is really hard to quantify. “

As many as 11% of U.S. Children’s Hospital emergency department visits during warmer seasons were reported by Sheffield and colleagues in January in Environmental Health Perspectives due to high temperatures, according to a study published in.

Another vulnerable population is people with sickle cell disease sensitive”, says Sheffield. Under stressful conditions, their red blood cell walls change shape, which can lead to clotting, or “microclots,” that can affect multiple organs. Even those with sickle cell traits — those who only have People who carry one copy of the gene that causes sickle cell disease — may also be more susceptible to the health effects of heat.

“As many as 3 million people have sickle cell,” she added. People with the characteristic have a higher risk of sudden death when exercising in hot weather.

Researchers are also beginning to ask about the health effects of heat; for example, the effects of repeated exposure to heat and dehydration on the kidneys. They are also looking at other genetic variants that may increase “heat health risk,” such as muscle contractility.

Extreme Heat and Mental Health

Boston University Public Health The college’s Dr Amruta Nori-Sarma said her research looked at the “physical and mental health burden” associated with the number of days with extreme heat, which is expected to increase with climate change.

She noted that the seven warmest years on record in the continental United States have occurred since 2015. The hottest year on record was 2016, followed by 2019 and 2020.

Direct physical effects of heat exposure include heat stroke, heat stress, swelling, and prickly heat, while indirect physical effects are often due to underlying conditions that can lead to cardiovascular disease and renal insufficiency .

While the effects on the body are well-studied and documented, the effects of heat exposure on mental health “stand up poorly,” says Nori-Sarma.

In a study she and her colleagues looked at the association between warm-season months (May-September) and mental health-related emergency department visits between 2010 and 2019 The relationship was published in JAMA Psychiatry magazine.

“We found in this study that with increasing temperature, the rate of emergency department visits increased correspondingly across all mental health causes of interest to us,” Nori- These include substance use disorders, anxiety, mood disorders, schizophrenia and self-harm, Sarma noted.

“This suggests to me that heat is likely to be an external stressor that exacerbates people’s existing mental health conditions,” she added.

Regarding the pathways that may affect an individual’s mental health during these times, “One thing we can assume is the disruption of sleep periods that is taking place because people are experiencing high temperatures, even during the day discomfort or irritation,” she said. Another pathway that may disproportionately affect young people is stress related to climate change.


Nori-Sarma pointed out that Boston has proposed and Begin a climate adaptation plan to reduce people’s vulnerability to heat, which includes building green spaces and using sustainable design to reduce people’s exposure to heat and extreme cold in buildings.

In addition, one of her PhD students, Ken Adams, is working on a report on the location of cooling centers in 70 different cities.

Nori-Sarma and Sheffield also addressed another vulnerable group—outdoor workers who are occupationally exposed to extreme heat. One of the ways employers can prevent adverse consequences for workers is to provide them with shade and encourage them to rest and rest more frequently.

Another tactic is to eliminate working hours during the hottest time of the day in the fall, which means starting work earlier in the morning and later in the evening, Nori-Sarma said.

Sheffield noted that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has built a mobile app to educate workers and employers about the risk of extreme heat, which also issues messages during hot weather Alerts, and tips for safety precautions.

Sheffield noted that hospitals have used electronic medical records to send hurricane and high wind warnings to vulnerable patients as a precaution. Extreme heat may be another alert they should consider.

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    Shannon Firth has been covering health policy as a Washington correspondent for MedPage Today since 2014. She is also a member of the site’s corporate and investigative reporting team. Follow



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