Heart disease death in U.S. caused by extreme heat may triple by midcentury

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New research warns that the number of cardiovascular deaths caused by extreme heat could increase significantly in the United States if we don’t take urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

This study, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, emphasizes that older adults and non-Hispanic Black adults face a higher risk. Let’s explore this critical issue and its potential consequences.

The Heat-Related Threat

Extreme heat, defined as a maximum heat index of 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, has been linked to 1,651 excess cardiovascular deaths annually from 2008 to 2019.

This research, supported by the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, projects a potentially alarming scenario:

if proposed policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are implemented, the annual death toll could rise to 4,320.

If minimal action is taken, we might see as many as 5,491 such deaths each year. The severity of this crisis hinges on the speed and extent of nationwide emissions policies.

Vulnerable Populations

The study reveals that extreme heat will disproportionately affect certain groups. This includes individuals aged 65 and older, who could face a cardiovascular death rate up to 3.5 times higher than younger adults.

Moreover, for Black adults, the risk could be up to 4.6 times greater compared to white adults. But why?

One reason for these disparities lies in unequal access to resources. Studies have suggested that Black residents may have less access to air conditioning, fewer trees in their neighborhoods, and suffer from the ‘urban heat island effect.’

This effect means that built-up urban areas experience higher temperature increases than less-developed areas, leading to increased heat-related health risks.

Furthermore, social isolation among some older adults has been associated with a higher likelihood of death due to extreme heat. These disparities in access to resources and social support make certain groups more vulnerable.

The Unseen Threat

While the study focuses on cardiovascular deaths due to extreme heat, it overlooks a broader public health threat.

It doesn’t account for nonfatal heart attacks, strokes, and hospitalizations due to heart failure, which can also be linked to extremely hot days.

Dr. Robert Brook, an expert in cardiovascular prevention at Wayne State University School of Medicine, believes that the true extent of the problem is likely much greater than what the study suggests.


The findings of this research paint a worrisome picture of the future. Extreme heat, exacerbated by climate change, is poised to cause a surge in cardiovascular deaths, especially among older adults and Black communities.

Addressing this issue requires urgent and comprehensive action, from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to improving access to resources in vulnerable communities.

It is not just a matter of saving lives; it’s a matter of ensuring that everyone, regardless of their background, has a fair chance to live a healthy life in a changing climate.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about how eating eggs can help reduce heart disease risk, and herbal supplements could harm your heart rhythm.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about how drinking milk affects risks of heart disease and cancer, and results showing DASH diet is good for your blood pressure, and vegetable diet may reduce heart disease risk.

The research findings can be found in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

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