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Thousands are struck down by summer heat and most are poor

About 6,200 Americans are hospitalized each summer due to excessive heat, and those at the highest risk are poor, uninsured, or elderly, according to data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). About 180 people who were hospitalized for heat exposure died in 2005, according to the AHRQ analysis.

Severe heat exposure—called hyperthermia—occurs when body temperatures rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Heat exhaustion symptoms range from nausea and vomiting to weakness, headache, and muscle cramps. More extreme heat stroke may cause a rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, mental confusion, seizure, and coma.

AHRQ's analysis, based on 2005 data, found that:

  • People from communities with average household incomes of $36,999 or less were hospitalized more than twice as often as people who came from wealthier areas where average household incomes topped $61,000.
  • The rate of hyperthermia hospital admissions for uninsured patients was significantly higher (17 percent) than hospital admissions for uninsured patients as a whole (5 percent).
  • The hospitalization rate for people over 65 with hyperthermia was 15 times greater than for people age 17 and younger.
  • The rate of admission for hyperthermia in the South (3.1 per 100,000 population) was more than twice that of the Midwest and West (1.4 per 100,000 each). The Northeast had a rate of 1.7 per 100,000 for hyperthermia.

For more information, go to HCUP Statistical Brief #55: Hospital Stays Resulting from Excessive Heat and Cold Exposure Due to Weather Conditions in U.S. Community Hospitals, 2005.

The report uses statistics from the 2005 Nationwide Inpatient Sample, a database of hospital inpatient stays that is nationally representative of inpatient stays in all short-term, non-Federal hospitals. The data are drawn from hospitals that comprise 90 percent of all discharges in the United States and include all patients, regardless of insurance type, as well as the uninsured.

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