5 Medical Conditions That Increase the Risk for Heat Stroke

2011-07-22 | |
Last updated: 2011-07-22

Who is Most at Risk from Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is a risk for everyone in very hot weather. According to 2010 research from Yale University, the average person’s risk of dying actually increases by 2.6% during a heat wave. If the heat wave occurs in the early part of the summer, our risk of dying is even worse, being 5% percent higher. A study from Macquarie University even found that in Australia, a heat wave is the leading cause of death from a natural hazard. Similarly for the years 1979 to 2003, the US Centers for Disease Control reports that deaths from extreme heat were higher than for all other natural events.

That said, among the healthy population the risks vary by person with children and the elderly most at risk.

Which Medical Conditions Put Us Most At Risk for Heat Stroke?

Although everyone does face risks with extreme heat exposure, Heat Stroke should be a greater concern for anyone with less than perfect health. People with chronic health issues are at a higher risk of developing Heat Stroke than the healthy population. This is the case because exposure to high temperatures stresses the body and people with illness are less resilient to this stress. However, people with specific medical conditions face even greater health risks.

Heat Stroke Risks with COPD and Asthma

Two conditions that increase vulnerability to heat exposure are those related to the respiratory system. People who suffer from COPD and Asthma are at greater risk to develop Heat Stroke than the rest of the population. This is because cooling the body by sweating requires more energy than normal and producing additional energy uses more oxygen. For people with difficulties breathing, getting this additional oxygen into the body can be a challenge.

Heat Stroke Risks with Kidney Disease

In additional to respiratory conditions raising the risk of Heat Stroke, problems with kidney health also increase risk. There are two important reasons for this. The first is that those with kidney disease have a reduced ability to retain fluids and electrolytes. This can make dehydration and overheating happen more quickly. Secondly, when the body gets warm, it moves more blood to the skin in an attempt to reduce body temperature. This reduces the both blood flow and pressure in the kidneys making them more prone to overheat and less able to function.

Heat Stroke Risks with Heart and Circulatory System Diseases

Yet another set of conditions that raises the risk for Heat Stroke are those related to blood flow and operation of the heart. As mentioned previously, cooling the body requires higher energy consumption and increased rates of blood flow. For those with heart conditions, increased movement of blood to deliver more oxygen may not be possible. This leaves the body with insufficient energy for cooling. At the same, problems with circulation can mean that heat is not transferred effectively to the skin to be dissipated by evaporation of sweat. In both cases, the body is left unable to effectively cool itself increasing the risk of Heat Stroke.

Heat Stroke Risks with Diabetes

Further to these risks, having Diabetes also increases the chances of developing Heat Stroke during a heat wave. One reason for this relates back to kidney disease. People with diabetes often have some level of kidney damage even when their condition is considered well controlled. As previously mentioned, this makes it easier to become dehydrated.

A second, less obvious reason for diabetics to have an increased risk is as a result of damage to the skin caused by the disease. The injury to the skin increases Heat Stroke risk in two ways. The first is that it affects circulation and as mentioned in the last section, this means that the body cannot effectively move heat to the skin to enable cooling. The second reason is that damage to the skin affects the ability to sweat. In research from Loma Linda University, researchers found that sweat production in diabetics was roughly 45% less than in people without the disease. Obviously, the reduced ability to sweat also affects the ability to cool the body.

Heat Stroke Risks and Obesity

The last condition to mention here that increases the risk for Heat Stroke is Obesity. Considering that Obesity is linked to respiratory disorders, heart disease and diabetes, it becomes clear that that who are obese would have more risk of developing Heat Stroke during heat waves. However, that is not the entire reason for the higher risks and basic physics also plays a role. Being obese means that the body has a smaller amount of skin to cool a larger amount of mass. This means that it is easier for heat to overwhelm the ability of an obese body to cool itself.


During the high temperatures of a heat wave, heat exhaustion and Heat Stroke are a problem for all of us. However, people with medical conditions must be more careful because excessive heat can affect them more quickly. As a result, it is important for people with medical conditions who are at higher risk for Heat Stroke to play it safe. This means drinking enough water, not overexerting ourselves, and also not being too cheap to pay for the air conditioner to run.

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Category: Disease Information, Disease Prevention, General Health, Health Risks

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