Heat exposure increases heart attack risk

Tuesday 11th April 2017
Firefighters and others who are regularly exposed to extreme heat levels may be at greater risk of heart attacks, new research suggests. Image: ArishaRay via iStock
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Exposure to extreme heat levels may increase a person's risk of suffering a heart attack, according to a new study.

While this doesn't necessarily mean that living in a hot climate will raise the risk of a heart attack, it does mean that people such as firefighters who are regularly exposed to extreme levels of heat could be more likely to experience heart failure.

According to research carried out by scientists based at the University of Edinburgh, working amid high temperatures significantly increases a person's heart attack risk, which may provide an explanation as to why the leading cause of death among active firefighters is heart disease.

The study - funded by the British Heart Foundation - involved 19 non-smoking firefighters from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. They were exposed to extreme temperatures in a controlled environment while doctors assessed the impact that this environment had on their health.

It was found that participants' body temperatures remained elevated for between three and four hours after they had exited the scorching environment, highlighting that firefighters and industrial workers exposed to extreme heat may need to take extra measures to cool themselves down.

In addition, participants' blood became stickier in consistency after being in close proximity to extreme heat, making it two-thirds (66 per cent) more likely to clot, consequently raising the risk of a heart attack.

The researchers also tried administering medication to the firefighters in an attempt to regulate their body temperature, but their blood vessels failed to relax, making this impossible.

As a result, if an individual did suffer a heart attack, medication may not be able to help them to survive, which further highlights the importance of a regulated body temperature to prevent the development of heart problems.

Speaking to BBC News, Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the BHF, commented: "It's essential that firefighters are aware of this risk and take simple steps such as taking time to cool down and rehydrate after tackling a blaze.

"Most of us will never experience the scorching heat of a blazing inferno, but it's still good general health advice to drink plenty of fluid and take breaks if you're working up a sweat in high temperatures."

Written by Mathew Horton

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