Heat Exposure a Dangerous Summer Threat

The poor, the elderly and people without health insurance especially vulnerable, study says

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WEDNESDAY, July 9, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Every summer, an estimated 6,200 Americans are hospitalized for heat exposure. In 2005, about 180 of those people who were hospitalized died, according to the latest News and Numbers from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Severe heat exposure, which is called hyperthermia, occurs when the body's temperature rises to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Symptoms of heat exposure can include nausea, vomiting, weakness, headache and muscle cramps.

In severe cases, called heat stroke, victims may suffer from a rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, mental confusion, seizure and even a coma, according to AHRQ.

Those at highest risk are the poor, the elderly and people lacking health insurance, according to an AHRQ analysis. That analysis, based on 2005 data, found that:

  • People who lived in communities where the average household income was less than $36,999 were hospitalized at twice the rate of people from wealthier areas where average household incomes exceeded $61,000.
  • The rate of hospital admissions for hyperthermia for people without health insurance was significantly higher (17 percent) than hospital admissions for uninsured patients as a whole (5 percent).
  • People 65 and older were hospitalized for hyperthermia at 15 times the rate of people age 17 and younger.
  • Hospital admissions for hyperthermia in the South (3.1 per 100,000 population) were more than twice that of the Midwest and West (1.4 per 100,000 each). The Northeast had a rate of 1.7 per 100,000 for hyperthermia.

More information

For advice on how to protect yourself from heat exposure, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, news release, July 9, 2008

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