Climate change will have serious and direct effects on human health, including a surge in the number of heart-related deaths, a new study has warned.
Heatwaves are already claiming lives – and by the middle of the century, cardiovascular deaths could more than double, the researchers warned.
If no action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, deaths could triple, the researchers warn in the journal Circulation. The research is based on figures in the US, but effects will be felt worldwide.
Lead study author Sameed Khatana, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said: "Climate change and its many manifestations will play an increasingly important role on the health of communities around the world in the coming decades.”
"The magnitude of the percent increase was surprising. This increase accounts for not only the known association between cardiovascular deaths and extreme heat, but it is also impacted by the population getting older,” Khatana added.
The researchers say that the effect could worsen the ‘health gap’ between different communities, due to factors such as access to air conditioning and tree cover.
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How much will the risk rise?
Researchers used models for future greenhouse gas emissions and future socioeconomic and demographic makeup of the US population to estimate the possible impact of extreme heat on cardiovascular deaths in the middle years of the current century (2036-2065).
Depending on how aggressively policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are implemented, adults aged 65 and older are projected to have a 2.9 to 3.5 times greater increase in cardiovascular death.
Will it affect different communities differently?
It’s very possible that climate change will affect different communities differently, possibly exacerbating divides between rich and poor.
Khatana said": "Previous studies have suggested Black residents may have less access to air conditioning; less tree cover; and a higher degree of the 'urban heat island effect'—built-up areas having a greater increase in temperature than surrounding less-developed areas.
"Living conditions may also have a role in terms of social isolation, which is experienced by some older adults and has previously been linked with a higher probability of death from extreme heat."
Could it be worse than expected?
While the projections may appear alarming, they are likely conservative, said American Heart Association volunteer Robert Brook, who has co-authored several Association scientific statements on air pollution and was not involved in this study.
"The projections of this study focus on cardiovascular disease deaths, and, therefore, they represent conservative estimations of the adverse effects on cardiovascular health due to extreme heat," he said.
"Nonfatal heart attacks, strokes and heart failure hospitalisations outnumber fatal events and are also highly likely to be linked with extreme heat days. The full extent of the public health threat, even just due to cardiovascular death, is likely much greater than presented in this study. "
What other effects could climate change have on health?
Climate change (and heatwaves in particular) are forecast to have wide-ranging effects on human health, such as increases in kidney stones due to dehydration.
Kidney stone disease is a painful condition caused by hard deposits of minerals that develop in concentrated urine and cause pain when passing through the urinary tract.
The incidence of the condition has increased in the last 20 years.
As the world warms due to climate change, more of us will suffer from kidney stones due to hot temperatures and dehydration, new research has shown.
Kidney stones could increase by up to 3.9% in American states such as Carolina, researchers at the Children's Hospital Of Philadelphia found.