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Climate change-related disturbances linked to worsening cardiovascular health

The world’s leading cause of premature death could be significantly more fatal when extreme weather and atmospheric events take place. 

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Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre [BIDMC] in Boston conducted an in-depth review of 492 observational studies in a bid to determine potential links between cardiovascular illness and climate change-related environmental stressors. 

The results show that extreme temperatures and hurricanes have a strong association with heightened mortality from cardiovascular disease. Older adults, and individuals from racial and ethnic minority populations, and those from lower wealth communities are disproportionately effected. 

Published in the journal JAMA Cardiology, the investigation involved screening nearly 21,000 peer-reviewed studies conducted between 1970 and 2023, which evaluated associations between acute cardiovascular events, mortality, healthcare utilisation and climate change-related phenomena such as extreme heat, wildfires and air pollution, ground-level ozone, hurricanes, dust storms, droughts, rising sea level, saltwater intrusion, and climate-driven migration.

While concluding that high temperatures increased the incidence of both cardiovascular disease and mortality, this varied depending on the temperature. Tropical storms were also shown to have an impact, with raised risk continuing for months after the actual weather event, a period of time in which households are counting costs, claiming losses through insurance and attempting to rebuild their lives and communities. Nevertheless, the team emphasised the need to assess an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality linked to climate change exposure based on their personal medical history, where they live and access to healthcare. 

‘Given how many Americans are now being exposed to wildfire smoke every year—as was the case of wildfire smoke from Canadian fires affecting New York city last summer—further studies to accurately quantify this risk are urgently needed,’ said Dhruv S. Kazi, corresponding author of the study and Associate Director of the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Center for Outcomes of Research at BIDMC. ‘We know that these pathways have the potential to undermine the cardiovascular health of the population, but the magnitude of the impact, and which populations will be particularly susceptible, need further study.’

‘Climate change is already affecting our cardiovascular health; exposure to extreme heat can adversely affect heart rate and blood pressure; exposure to ozone or wildfire smog can trigger systemic inflammation; living through a natural disaster can cause psychological distress; and hurricanes and floods may disrupt healthcare delivery through power outages and supply chain disruptions; and in the long-term, the changing climate is projected to produce declines in agricultural productivity and the nutritional quality of the food supply, which could also compromise cardiovascular health,’ he continued. 

More on climate change and net zero: 

The UK environment deserves better than the Conservative manifesto

69% of CEOs view sustainability as a growth opportunity

Chartered Institute for Environmental Health launches general election campaign

Image: Piron Guillaume

 

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