Climate Change Will Break Your Heart

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Photo credit: yoshimov
Melting glaciers, driving polar bears onto land, and devouring human flesh apparently weren't enough for global warming. Doctors now warn that it could also affect your heart.

"If it really is a few degrees warmer in the next 50 years, we could definitely have more cardiovascular disease," Dr. Karin Schenck-Gustafsson, of the department of cardiology at Sweden's Karolinska Institute, tells the Associated Press.

The 2003 European heat wave took an estimated 35,000 deaths above expected levels in the first two weeks. of August. In France alone, soaring temperatures caused 15,000 extra people to die, with experts saying that much of that was due to heart problems in the elderly made worse by the extreme heat. The hardening of the heart's arteries is like rust developing on a car, says Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, chief of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University. "Rust develops much more quickly at warm temperatures and so does atherosclerosis."

When temperatures go up, we sweat to get rid of heat; during that process, blood vessels open to send more blood to the skin, where temperatures are cooler. As a result, the heart rate rises and blood pressure drops, a combination that can be dangerous for older people and anyone with a weakened cardiovascular system. The human body isn't designed for protracted periods of extreme heat, however; even sweating is only effective as a temporary fix.

Experts say that too many unknown variables connecting global warming and heart disease, making it difficult to predict how many more people will have heart problems in the future. Doctors suspect that pollution, which is expected to worsen with climate change, plays a role in causing heart disease. Tiny airborne contaminants that irritate the lungs, they say, can set off a bad reaction in the heart.

Hope, however, springs eternal: Dr. Claudio Ceconi, spokesman for the European Society of Cardiology, tells us to focus on things we can control, such as diet and fitness. "We should think more about going outside for a bicycle ride even when it's not bright and sunny," he says. ::AP

See also: ::Fight Global Warming and Improve Your Health, ::World Health Organization: Preventing Disease Through Healthy Environments, and ::New Worries about Climate Change-Induced Spread of Infectious Diseases

Tags: Sweden

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