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High Humidity May Increase Risk of Heart Attack.

Seniors at Higher Risk

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Updated July 14, 2006

A study from a group of researchers at the University of Greece suggests that weather, most importantly high humidity appears to increase the incidence of acute myocardial infarction (AMI) or heart attack leading to death among the elderly. The findings reported in the British Medical Journal Heart result from a study conducted using death certificate data from the area around Athens Greece for all deaths attributed to AMI during 2001, and the corresponding weather data. The study found that deaths from AMI were higher during months when the average daily humidity was higher.

The study does raise many questions. Greece is a Mediterranean country with a mild climate very similar to that found in Florida and California in the United States. The findings of a relationship between weather and heart attacks in this study would not seem to apply to most areas of the United States. What this study does seem to indicate is that exposure to extreme weather (heat and cold) especially by people with chronic health conditions and the elderly are a risk factor for heart attack and death.

The American Heart Association warns people about the affects of hot weather on their health. Extreme heat can cause dehydration, heat exhaustion and stroke. Add in high humidity and you can find a very dangerous situation. Warn seniors to limit outside activity when the temperature is above 70 degrees with humidity above 70%. With these conditions, the body's natural cooling mechanisms are affected. During hot summer months, outdoor activity such as exercise walking and gardening should be limited to cooler times of day in the early morning or in the evening. Seniors should also be encouraged to increase their water intake to compensate for fluid lost in hot weather. The American Heart Association suggests monitoring your weight by weighing your self in the morning after using the restroom. If your weight is down by two pounds or more you should increase the amount of water you drink. Avoid fluids with caffeine as they can increase fluid loss. Even if you are dieting and weight loss is expected you still need to drink plenty of water to stay healthy.

Remember, dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion which can lead to heat stroke. Heat stroke can kill, especially if you are an older adult with a health condition.

The symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • excessive heavy sweating
  • cold clammy skin
  • feeling dizzy or fainting
  • rapid weak pulse
  • muscle cramping
  • rapid shallow breathing
  • vomiting, nausea or both

SOURCES: Climate Impacts on Myocardial Infarction Deaths in the Athens Territory: The Climate Study, Heart, July 2006; British Medical Journal.

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