The effects of extreme heat, persistant pain
The long hot summer of 2019 is at last drawing to a close, and we already know it’s one for the record books. July proved to be the Earth’s hottest month on record. That said, 2019 is unlikely to set a new record for the warmest year, but it is a lock for making the top five. Researchers believe there is a 90% chance that 2019 will wind up as the second-warmest year since instrumental records began.
That our globe has been the subject of crippling heat is more than a figure of speech. As covered earlier, heatstroke becomes a primary concern during extreme heat waves. Recently pointed out by NPR correspondent Clayton Dalton, extreme cases of heatstroke can ultimately cause multiple organ failure, shock and death.
As detailed in a recent NPR report, skyrocketing temperatures affect many other diseases, such as heart attacks, strokes and respiratory problems. Exposure to excessive heat appears to make every medical condition that much worse.
Researchers have known this for some time. As far back as 1938, says Dalton, a statistician named Mary Gover discovered this association between heat waves and increased mortality from all causes. Only about a quarter of deaths during these periods could be attributed to heatstroke.
This global phenomenon continues to be recorded today. British researchers found that death rates from heart attack, stroke and pneumonia increased steadily with temperatures over 70 F. In a 2002 study of 11 U.S. cities, a team from Johns Hopkins University confirmed that total mortality increases linearly above 70 F.
Scientists also detected that heat was having a profound effect on cardiovascular disease in particular. They hypothesized that it has to do with the body’s adaptive response to high temperatures. Dalton explains that when body temperature rises, blood becomes a critical means of dispelling this heat. Vessels near the skin dilate to increase blood flow. Heat is circulated from the core to the skin, where sweating helps transfer heat to the environment. The heart drives this adaptation, and the added stress the process creates in the body can prove fatal to a damaged system.
For people with a predisposition to clotting, the dehydration caused by heat can, in turn, increase the risk of clotting and ultimately contribute to a heart attack or stroke.
Heat also seems to worsen mental illness. In 2014, Canadian researchers found that ER visits for mental illness increased 29% during periods of extreme heat in Toronto. Around the same time, similar research in Korea found that, over an 11-year period, nearly 15% of emergency admissions for mental illness could be attributed to extreme heat.
Sadly, extreme heat also seems to incite increased violence and aggression. According to the NPR report, a 2013 study found that violent crime in St. Louis increased 1% for every degree above average monthly temperatures.
These are all trends we need to be especially mindful of, as temperatures are projected to rise ever higher in coming years. Keeping our cool is becoming more than a goal; it will be a necessity.
While I’m in a statistical mood, there are a couple of other recently published studies also warrant attention:
The latest NPR-IBM Watson Health Poll revealed that nearly 1 in 5 Americans admit that pain often interferes with their daily life. The nationwide poll surveyed 3,004 people during the first half of March 2019. Researchers were interested in utilizing the current poll to explore how often pain interferes with people’s ability to work, go to school or engage in other activities. They found that, for about a fourth of those surveyed, pain sometimes does interfere.
The degree to which pain is a problem varies by age, with 22% of people 65 and older saying pain often interferes with their daily lives, compared with only about 9% of people 35 and younger.
Researchers were also interested in knowing how people deal with pain once it strikes. The most common approach for more than 60% of those surveyed is an over-the-counter pain reliever. About 15% of Americans turn to a prescription medicine for relief. People 35 and under were least likely to get a prescription drug for pain (only 3%). Not surprisingly, people 65 and older were most likely to make use of a prescription medicine, with 23% opting for that approach.
A popular choice for dealing with pain — particularly among younger people — is exercise, including stretching and yoga. Forty percent of those under 35 say exercise is a way they seek relief. Only 11% of people 65 and older say exercise is something they try for pain relief.
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