While the environmental impact of climate change has become a newsworthy topic, its health effects also warrant attention. As we see more instances of extreme heat and increasing temperature variability, what are some of the health risks clinicians could see more frequently?
Nature Reviews Cardiology recently published a study on the cardiovascular risks of climate change, concluding that significant changes are needed for the cardiovascular health of future generations. The study notes that older individuals, those with low socioeconomic status, and those with underlying conditions that may lead to cardiovascular disease are most vulnerable to these risks.
The researchers determined that climate change can be anticipated to have an impact on the following conditions and situations.
The researchers examined data on myocardial infarctions in 2 different time periods, 1987 to 2000 and 2001 to 2014, to see the effects of cold and heat on myocardial infarction onset. In the first period, they were found to be only triggered by exposure to cold. In the second period, though, there was a marked increase in risk of myocardial infarction at temperatures above 18 °C. This change was attributed to individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus or hypertension having added risk of cardiovascular disease, which the investigators believed to be exacerbated by exposure to heat that could increase over time.
Ischemic heart disease
The study also posits the possibility of increasing temperatures causing an increase in acute-onset ischemic heart disease risk. The physiologic stress brought on by heat can change central body temperature and elevate heart rate, and individuals with heart failure may not be able to compensate for the increased circulatory demand. Individuals with underlying issues associated with heart failure could be at increased risk for sudden cardiovascular failure in extreme heat.
Increased wildfires and air pollution
The environmental impact of climate change can go hand in hand with health risks. One of the most notable effects of climate change has been an increase in the occurrence and severity of wildfires, with a subsequent increase in air pollution. Fine particulate matter in the air has been connected to cardiovascular disease mortality and can exacerbate the already severe risks of mortality in extreme heat.
The researchers conclude that clinicians should call attention to these cardiovascular risks in discussions with their patients, as well as consider them when adjusting treatment regimens. This is particularly relevant during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, as the infection can cause lingering respiratory problems.
Peters A, Schneider A. Cardiovascular risks of climate change. Nat Rev Cardiol. 2020;18(1):1-2. doi:10.1038/s41569-020-00473-5