Intended for healthcare professionals


Death in heat waves

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 04 September 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:512
  1. William R Keatinge, emeritus professor (
  1. Barts and the London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of London, London E1 4NS

    Simple preventive measures may help reduce mortality

    Increasing evidence shows that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are rising and are causing global warming.1 Record air temperatures were recorded in Britain during the last month. Accurate estimates of the consequences of these must wait until daily mortality data are available, but press reports indicate that the hot weather caused around 1000 deaths during one week alone in Britain and perhaps 10 000 overall in France, where temperatures were higher.

    Mortality in Britain is lowest when the mean daily temperature is 17-18°C. The number of heat related deaths per year, obtained as the number of excess deaths on days hotter than this, has averaged around 800 in recent years.2 Most of those deaths are of people over 70 years of age, and most occur in the first day or two of a period of high temperature.3

    Few of these deaths are recognisable clinically as being due to heat.4 5 Heat stress causes loss of salt and water …

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