Heart disease risk increased with extreme weather concludes new study

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Extreme weather is becoming more and more common as the full effects of climate change begin to be felt. With the extreme weather will come hotter summers and colder winters. All of this will impact every facet of life, including our health, say researchers. This, at least, is the conclusion of one of many reports from the European Society of Cardiology Conference. The team of scientists from the University of Oslo say extreme weather will have a particularly damaging effect on cardiovascular health in the years to come.

In order to come to their conclusion, the scientists analysed the data from five studies covering over two million people from Italy, Germany, Norway, the UK, and Sweden. These studies covered a 16 year period from 1994 to 2010.

Furthermore, the average age of participants ranged from 49.7 to 71.7 years old while women on average made up 36 to 54.5 percent of the study cohort.

Over the 16 year period, analysis found an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease overall, with deaths from ischaemic heart disease – also known as coronary heart disease – rising the most.

These deaths were most pronounced in cases when temperatures fell rather than rose with a 19 percent increase in risk of death when the temperature fell 10 degrees from +5 to -5 degrees. Furthermore, there was a 22 percent increased likelihood of death as a result of coronary heart disease.

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Speaking about the study, Professor Stefan Agewall said: “The relationships between cold temperatures and deaths were more pronounced in men and people living in neighbourhoods with a low socioeconomic status.

“The links between cold and new-onset ischaemic heart disease were stronger among women and people older than 65 years.”

While falls in temperature also had an impact, so too did an increase. When temperatures rose from 15 to 24 degrees, there was a 25 percent increase in the likelihood of heart disease and a 30 percent increase in the likelihood of stroke.

Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term used to describe all forms of heart disease while a stroke is a cardiovascular event where blood supply to the brain is suddenly cut off; this is normally caused by a blood clot.

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On the impact of the study, Professor Agewall added: “Clinicians can use this information to provide tailored advice to those most at risk of adverse health outcomes during hot and cold days.

“Patients with heart conditions should stay hydrated in hot weather and adhere to advice from their cardiologist on medication use. We can all check the news for extreme heat and cold alerts and follow safety tips from local authorities.”

In summary, the study demonstrates the impact of a changing climate on the health of a nation, not just in terms of heat or cold related illnesses such as heat stroke or hypothermia but on risk to diseases which occur year round.

As the UK enters September there will be growing focus on the impact of the colder temperatures on the respiratory system, particularly as the cost of living crisis and fuel cap bites.

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How can someone reduce their risk of heart disease?

There is no one way someone can reduce their risk of heart disease, rather it is a combination of four factors:
• Exercise
• Diet
• Lifestyle habits
• Existence of other conditions.

Exercise and diet are the two main pillars of a healthy existence. Exercise can help burn any excess visceral fat and improve the strength of the cardiovascular system while a balanced diet can give the body the fuel it needs for that exercise.

Furthermore, unhealthy lifestyle habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can also have an impact with smoking being a leading risk factor not just for heart disease but for most cancers.

Alongside this, other pre-existing conditions such as diabetes can have an impact on someone’s risk of heart disease.

How is heart disease treated?

Heart disease treatment will depend on the form of heart disease a patient is diagnosed with. Often lifestyle factors and habits will be the first to be addressed as these do not involve medicinal intervention.

However, should these prove ineffective, medication may be prescribed in order to alleviate a patient’s symptoms. For example, in the case of high cholesterol this means the prescription of statins to reduce how much is produced in the liver.

Other common forms of heart disease include high blood pressure and coronary heart disease – the most prevalent ailment under this deadly umbrella.

The important thing is that cardiovascular conditions can be treated, but like all medical problems, the earlier they are spotted, the less invasive the treatment will need to be and the more likely a life can be saved.

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