Harvard Health Letter

Pay attention to heat wave warnings this summer

If your weather forecaster warns about a heat wave this summer, take it seriously. A study by Harvard researchers found that people with certain conditions were at an increased risk of winding up in the hospital during periods of high heat. Their work was published Dec. 23, 2014, in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers analyzed hospitalization rates for specific diseases among 23 million Medicare beneficiaries between 1999 and 2010. What sent older adults to the hospital most often during a heat wave? Heatstroke, fluid and electrolyte disorders, kidney failure, urinary tract infections, and sepsis (a dangerous blood infection). For some diseases, the risk of hospitalization was elevated for up to five days after a heat wave day, suggesting that preventing and treating heat-related illnesses is crucial both during and after a heat wave.

"We hope people will use this information to better prepare when extreme temperatures are forecast," says Dr. Francesca Dominici, senior author of the study and a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. How to prepare? Stay out of the heat, stay hydrated, and make sure you have an air conditioner that works.

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