Heatwaves could lead to more frequent trips to the hospitals for senior citizens, a new study reveals. Extreme heat can lead to heat stroke, kidney failure, urinary tract infections, and other health problems that strike seniors especially hard. Each year in the United States, an average of 10,000 people die from causes directly related to weather, and extreme heat is responsible for around one-third of the fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report in July 2014, which showed seniors were highly-susceptible to health problems brought about by high temperatures. Minorities and poor Americans, along with seniors over the age of 75, were shown to be especially susceptible to these dangers, which often prove fatal.

"Although weather-related mortality derived from death certificates has limitations, the vital statistics system is the only data source with data for the entire United States, for extensive time periods, and for all types of weather-related mortality," CDC officials reported in the earlier report.

Harvard School of Public Health researchers examined hospitalization records for 23.7 million people who received medicare between 1990 and 2010. This data was then compared to temperature records, in order to determine if a correlation existed between heat-related health emergencies and extreme temperatures.

Researchers found that seniors were 2.5 times more likely to be admitted to health care centers for heat stroke on hot days then when temperatures were near-average. Although that result may not seem surprising, investigators also found other disorders became more common in seniors when temperatures rose. Fluid and electrolyte imbalances accounted for 18 percent of admissions, followed by 14 percent with kidney problems. Urinary tract infections accounted for one in ten admissions to health care centers, whiles sepsis (severe blood infections) were diagnosed in six percent of patients.

Lengthier heat waves were found to lead to additional hospitalizations, as well as higher temperatures on individual days. Even after temperatures fell back to normal, hospitalization rates remained elevated  for five days, the study revealed.

"An innovative aspect of this work is that, rather than preselect a few individual diseases to examine, we considered all possible causes of hospital admission during heat waves in order to characterize the effects of heat on multiple organ systems," Francesca Dominici, professor of biostatistics at HSPH, said.

This new study from Harvard University is the most comprehensive of its kind. Although previous studies showed hot days lead to increased hospitalizations, this investigation was the first to tie higher temperatures to a wide variety of disorders.

Cause-Specific Risk of Hospital Admission Related to Extreme Heat in Older Adults, detailing results of the study, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). 

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