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HealthThis is what happens inside the human body during exposure to the heat of the weather

This is what happens inside the human body during exposure to the heat of the weather

Understanding the impact of extreme heat on human health

– Published on:

Record heat waves are sweeping many regions of the world with the advent of summer, especially in the northern hemisphere.

This situation indicates that climate change may once again raise temperatures to record levels that could exceed those recorded last summer and made it the hottest in 2,000 years.

It is suspected that the record temperatures already recorded in the past few days have caused hundreds if not thousands of deaths across Asia and Europe.

A Reuters tally showed that at least 1,000 pilgrims died while about two million people performed Hajj this year, amid extremely high temperatures.

This year, Europe faces dangerous temperatures.

Last week, Greek police said they found a 55-year-old American who had died on Mathraki Island, the third such death within a week.

Areas in the northeastern United States and the Midwest are also suffering from what is known as a heat dome, with heat warnings issued to more than 86 million people, according to the US National Weather Service.

As fatalities rise due to hot weather, scientists attribute this trend to the adverse effects of high temperatures on various organs. These conditions strain the heart, impair skin integrity, accelerate dehydration, and can potentially lead to fatal outcomes if the body fails to regulate its temperature effectively.

Impact on Brain

As temperatures rise, the brain may have difficulty processing information, and this decline in cognitive function can impair judgment, putting people at risk of falling or injuring themselves.

In extreme cases, high temperatures can cause serious inflammation of the brain.

During superheat phases, the nervous system does not function well because the brain gets too little blood.

A research at Yale suggests that heat also affects mental health.

Rising temperatures have been linked to higher suicide rates in the United States and Mexico, while a study in Bangladesh showed links between a variety of climate-related stressors and the burden of anxiety and depression.

One study, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association about two years ago, showed that days of extreme heat in the United States were associated with higher rates of mental health emergency department visits for conditions including anxiety, self-harm, and substance abuse. 

Impacts on Skin

When the temperature rises, the skin plays an important role in cooling the body, as humans need to maintain their core body temperature within a “very narrow range,” says Larry Kinney, a professor of physiology and kinesiology at Penn State University.

In a previous interview with CBC Canada, Kenny revealed that the two main ways we can control the rise in body temperature are by pumping a lot of blood to the skin and by sweating over most of the body’s surface area and evaporating this sweat.

But this process can get messy when there is extreme heat, especially when combined with high humidity. 

These factors work together to disrupt the evaporation of sweat so that it has no cooling effect on the body, while also making the body drier.

Scientists call this condition wet-bulb temperature, which is the point at which water stops evaporating.

In such a case, when the temperature reaches 35 degrees Celsius, the body becomes unable to cool itself, and this may lead to an imbalance in the activity of the vital organs, and then death.

The elderly and infants can be particularly exposed to this risk.

Impact on Heart

As the body temperature rises, stress begins on the entire cardiovascular system.

This is due, according to experts, to more blood being held in the skin while the body tries to cool itself. 

This position puts more stress on the heart because it now has less blood and has to work harder to pump that blood to the rest of the body.

Daniel Gagnon, a researcher at the Montreal Heart Institute, says that a lack of oxygen and nutrients in the heart may lead to fatal conditions such as a heart attack.

There are many studies that show a relationship between extreme temperatures and cardiovascular problems.

A study published in the journal Circulation indicated that the combination of extreme heat and air pollution increases the risk of a fatal heart attack, especially among the elderly, by approximately 75 percent.

Impact on Lungs

Breathing hot, humid air can be hard on the lungs, exacerbating suffocation in the elderly and children, and putting other people at greater risk of other respiratory problems.

Neapolitans cope with African heat wave as temperatures approach 40 degrees Celsius, in Naples
A man cools himself off during a heatwave across Italy, in Naples, Italy July 10, 2023. [PHOTO: REUTERS/Ciro De Luca]

An editorial in the medical journal The Lancet in 2008 stated that extreme heat poses a particular risk to those with respiratory diseases, and that the exacerbation of chronic conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma is increasing significantly in line with rising temperatures, and is often exacerbated by increased air pollution. In cities, as well as seasonal allergies.

A study in the United States looked at the effect of weather temperature on older people and found that every increase of 5.6 degrees Celsius was associated with a four percent increase in emergency cases due to respiratory diseases.

Kidney

When the body becomes dehydrated, it greatly affects the kidneys as they are the organs responsible for filtering the blood by removing waste and excess water that is eventually eliminated in the form of urine.

Dehydration resulting from excessive warming weather can cause kidney failure, which may lead to emergency hospitalization or death.

Perhaps increased pressure on the heart, increased body temperature, fluid stress or dehydration can cause increased pressure on the kidneys.

A previous study, published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, found a 30% increase in kidney disease at high temperatures. 

Researchers have also observed mutations in certain conditions, including kidney stones.


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Hareem Bajwa
Hareem Bajwa
Editor (Health & Social Issues) at The Eastern Herald. Covering health and social issues.

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