Heat waves in Portugal increased daily hospitalizations by 18,9%

Between 2000 and 2018, reveals a study by the National School of Public Health

Heat waves increased daily hospital admissions by 18,9% between 2000 and 2018, mainly for burns (34%) and multiple traumas (27%), reveals a study by the National School of Public Health (ENSP).

The pioneering study points to “a statistically significant general increase in daily hospital admissions during heat wave days”, with children and young people up to the age of 18 being the most affected (21,7%) and the elderly (17,2%). %).

According to researchers from ENSP at Universidade NOVA de Lisboa and the CoLAB + Atlantic Center, heat waves caused an increase in hospitalizations, between 7% and 34,3%, in 25 major causes of illness.

On average, on heat wave days, hospitalizations increased by 34% for burns, 27% for multiple traumas, 25% for infectious diseases, 25% for endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases, 23% for mental illnesses, 22% for diseases of the respiratory system and 16% for diseases of the circulatory system, among others”, highlights the study published in the scientific journal Lancet Planetary Health.

«The study is very comprehensive in the sense that it covers more than 12 million hospitalizations that took place in mainland Portugal over practically two decades (2000 to 2018)», the first author of the research, Ana Margarida Alho, told Lusa today. researcher at ENSP.

Hospitalization data is crossed with daily air temperature data for the 278 municipalities in mainland Portugal, explained the researcher.

The results conclude that «more than 70% of the territory has an increase in hospitalizations during heat waves», with the most substantial increases occurring in the Northern regions, including the metropolitan areas of Porto, and Lisbon, with the group younger (under 18 years old) particularly affected in the interior and southern regions.

«Such a pronounced increase in hospital admissions could compromise the quality of healthcare provided to patients, placing an even greater burden on healthcare professionals, particularly at this time of summer, when team schedules are already reduced compared to the holiday period» , he warned.

One of the "great challenges" that motivated the study was to quantify the morbidity (disease) associated with the phenomenon, since there is already a lot of data on mortality, he said, arguing that "morbidity is a premature phase of mortality in which must act early”.

Ana Margarida Alho said that this study will continue with the objective of specifying, within each disease group, the reasons that lead the patient to hospitalization, giving mental illness and trauma as an example.

«It is documented that people during hot flashes tend to sleep with poorer quality and this often ends up decompensating for an illness that may already exist and, sometimes, there are also effects of medication that can alter the body's homeostasis and this needs must be obviously specified», he explained.

As for multiple traumas, he said that people tend to consume more alcohol on hot days and often tend to have more uninhibited, more impulsive behavior, or take part in more extreme sports, drive on roads they don't know so well, and all of this can trigger this increase in hospitalizations.

The researcher noted that, until recently, the occurrence of heat waves was considered an unusual phenomenon, but “extreme weather events such as heat waves are becoming common features of summer around the world, making safety measures adaptation to heat a priority».

«2023 was the hottest year ever recorded and extreme meteorological events, including heat waves, represent one of the biggest current concerns», with multiple areas in southern Europe expected to exceed more than 60 days.

For Ana Margarida Alho, it is important to promote early access to healthcare, considering it crucial to increase public awareness about the risks and behaviors to adopt in heat waves, thus contributing to preventing heat-related illness and subsequent mortality.

The researchers consider that these results should be used to promote the adaptation of healthcare in Portugal to an increasingly frequent, intense and long-lasting phenomenon.