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Hospital Admissions Rise with the Mercury

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, June 30, 2011

More Kidney Stones with Climate Change?

Just as canaries were the sentinels for coal miners until the late twentieth century, the city of Milwaukee may be a harbinger of things to come in Midwestern urban areas as twenty-first century climate change brings higher temperatures, more weather extremes and more hospital patients.

Among other things, researchers are finding more renal diseases in hotter weather. We knew that rising heat brings itchier poison ivy and more mosquitoes further north and higher up. But kidney stones?

The deadliest heat wave on record struck Europe in 2003, when 27,000 people died of heat-related afflictions. Unrelenting high temperatures have produced more cases of dehydration, heat stroke, asthma and respiratory ills and death, world-wide, especially among the very old, the very young and the chronically ill.

Now scientists examining 17 years of Milwaukee hospital and acute care admissions have identified several illnesses and conditions that seem especially heat-sensitive, including diabetes, urinary tract and renal disease, kidney stones, respiratory ills, accidents and suicides. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Purdue University and the National Center for Climatic Research studied admissions from 1989 through 2005. They even discovered temperature thresholds beyond which the numbers of certain illnesses increase. For instance, for every two degrees the mercury rises above 85 degrees F, hospitalizations for diabetes and kidney disorders rise 13 percent and admissions for endocrine diseases increase by nine percent. Accidents and suicide attempts rise by three percent when the temperature rises two degrees above 81 degrees F. The study, by Jonathan Patz, director of the UW-Madison Global Health Institute, and colleagues, is published in the journal Climatic Change.

A California study comparing hospital admissions and temperature in nine counties showed that even without heat waves, admissions for several illnesses spike when the mercury rises. The study found that every ten degree rise in temperature between May and September brought about a 400 percent increase in admissions for heat stroke, seven percent for kidney failure, four percent for pneumonia, and among five to 18-year-olds, a 21 percent increase for intestinal disease caused mostly by food born illness.

The Daily News and Analysis, a print and broadcast company in India, reported a 40 percent increase in kidney ailments last summer. A team of U.S. scientists predicted in 2008 that kidney stones will become more prevalent with warmer weather in the south and southeast and that anticipated higher temperatures could bring millions more cases of kidney stones and $1.3 billion in increased medical bills by 2050. Excessive water loss caused by heat exposure can lead to diarrhea and electrolyte imbalance, which can cause heat induced kidney ailments and exacerbate chronic kidney conditions.

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