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Heatwave Length, Not Intensity, Spurs Hospital Visits

Resistance of elderly does not appear to increase when heatwaves persist

FRIDAY, Aug. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Hospital admissions of elderly patients are more influenced by a heatwave's duration than by its intensity, according to the results of a study published Aug. 9 in the journal BMC Public Health. The study also suggests that patients do not necessarily adapt to the effects of repeated heatwaves over the course of a summer.

Giuseppe Mastrangelo, M.D., of the University of Padova, Italy, and colleagues reviewed hospital discharge records of patients aged 75 years and older during five heatwaves that occurred during the summers of 2002 and 2003. The data were collected from 60 hospitals in the Veneto region of Italy.

A major increase in admissions did not occur until a heatwave had lasted at least four consecutive days, the investigators found. Admissions for various types of heat disease (disorders of fluid and electrolyte balance, acute renal failure and heat stroke) rose 16 percent for each additional day the heatwave persisted, while admissions for respiratory diseases increased by 5 percent with each additional day. The rate of admissions peaked equally during heatwaves in early and late summer.

"Although the finding is based on a single late summer heatwave, no physiologic adaptations or behavioral changes seem to have occurred in late summer," the authors conclude. "The effect of heatwaves on selected hospital admissions should be expected not to decrease throughout the whole summer."

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