Study warns: Extreme temperatures linked to surge in stroke deaths

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Climate crisis: Study reveals over half a million stroke deaths tied to weather extremes.

NEW YORK, April 13: A groundbreaking study published in the medical journal Neurology sheds light on the alarming rise in stroke-related deaths associated with extreme temperatures. Conducted by researchers from Xiangya Hospital Central South University in China, the study delves into the escalating impact of climate change on global health.

The findings, unveiled on Wednesday, highlight a stark reality: in 2019 alone, over half a million lives were claimed by strokes triggered by high and low temperatures. This figure serves as a grim testament to the escalating health crisis fueled by climate change, with projections indicating a further surge in such fatalities.

Analyzing data spanning back to 1990 across 204 countries and territories, researchers observed a steady uptick in stroke incidence linked to temperature extremes. While men were disproportionately affected, strokes related to extreme temperatures cut across all age groups, underscoring the universal threat posed by climate-driven health hazards.

The study’s authors stress that the aging and expanding global population alone cannot account for the surge in stroke cases. Rather, they point to the influence of “nonoptimal temperatures” as a significant factor driving this troubling trend. Notably, the year 2019 witnessed a pronounced increase in strokes attributable to extreme temperature fluctuations compared to 1990.

Contrary to expectations, the study reveals that low temperatures were primarily responsible for the surge in stroke fatalities in 2019. This paradox underscores the complex interplay between climate change and weather patterns. The disruption of the polar vortex—a consequence of warmer temperatures on land—can precipitate colder spells, exacerbating health risks.

Alarmingly, regions grappling with poverty and fragile healthcare systems, notably in Africa, bear the brunt of stroke deaths linked to extreme temperatures. Central Asia emerges as a hotspot with a disproportionately high stroke burden attributed to temperature variations, warranting urgent attention.

Dr. Mary Rice, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, underscores the significance of the study’s findings. She emphasizes the urgent need for global action to mitigate climate change’s adverse health impacts, including strokes and a spectrum of other diseases.

While the study does not pinpoint the precise mechanisms driving the correlation between extreme temperatures and strokes, previous research suggests that both hot and cold spells can disrupt the body’s regulatory mechanisms, heightening the risk of stroke. Dr. Ali Saad, a neurologist affiliated with the Climate and Health Program at the University of Colorado, advocates for heightened awareness among patients about the dangers posed by temperature extremes.

Saad hopes that the study’s global perspective will galvanize policymakers worldwide to prioritize climate action, recognizing that the health ramifications of climate change transcend borders and socioeconomic boundaries. As climate change continues unabated, the specter of escalating stroke deaths underscores the urgent imperative for coordinated, decisive action on a global scale.

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