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Your Environment. Your Health.

Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke

Climate and Human Health

Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke

Health Impacts of Climate Change

Cardiovascular disease refers to a class of diseases that pertain to the heart of blood vessels, and is the leading cause of death in the United States. Stroke is the third leading cause. Cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke, affect an estimated 80 million Americans. Extreme cold and extreme heat directly affect the incidence of hospital admissions for chest pain, stroke, cardiac dysrhythmia (irregular heart beat), and other cardiovascular diseases. The elderly and isolated individuals are at the greatest risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke when triggered by temperature extremes.

Man wiping sweat off head in street with cars

Health Impacts

  • Extreme cold and extreme heat increase hospital admissions for heart-related disorders and disease, such as dysrhythmias and stroke
  • Increased ozone formation due to higher temperatures harms pulmonary gas exchange and causes stress on the heart. Increased ozone concentrations are associated with heart attacks
  • Increased particulate matter due to droughts and other conditions is associated with systematic inflammation, compromised heart function, deep venous thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, and blood vessel dysfunction
  • Stress and anxiety as a result of extreme weather events are associated with heart attacks, sudden cardiac death, and stress-related cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
  • Cardiovascular manifestations caused by certain vector-borne and zoonotic diseases, such as Chagas disease or Lyme disease

Mitigation and Adaptation

  • Increasing the density of urban development and installing tree covers, which can reduce building’s energy use
  • Reducing the level of emissions of ozone, particulate matter, and other pollutants that are associated with cardiovascular disease, such as reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled, carpooling, using public transportation, using fuel mixtures, and other alternative transportation options
  • Increasing the use of air conditioning to protect vulnerable populations from extreme heat reduces the risk of hospital admissions for heart-related diseases and disorders

Research Needs

  • Research on the incidence of cardiac dysrhythmias and associations with temperature and other environmental exposures
  • Enhancing research on the complex synergistic effect of temperature, weather variability, long-term climate change, and environmental exposures such as criteria air pollutants on the incidence of various cardiovascular disease outcomes
  • Characterizing the many individual constituents of air pollution to better anticipate the health effects from changing the mix of pollutants in air through the use of alternative fuels
  • Identifying and quantifying the co-benefits to cardiovascular health of reducing our reliance on fossil fuel-based energy and changing emission scenarios
  • Characterizing both the potential health risks and benefits of novel fuels and other energy production activities being considered for large-scale adoption as part of a national mitigation strategy

For more information, please visit the chapter on Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke in A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change (Full Report) (4MB).

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