Introduction: This study describes medical conditions treated in all 47 non-VA hospitals in Cook County, IL during the 1995 heat wave. We characterize the underlying diseases of the susceptible population, with the goal of tailoring prevention efforts.
Methods: Primary and secondary discharge diagnoses made during the heat wave and comparison periods were obtained from computerized inpatient hospital discharge data to determine reasons for hospitalization, and comorbid conditions, respectively.
Results: During the week of the heat wave, there were 1072 (11%) more hospital admissions than average for comparison weeks and 838 (35%) more than expected among patients aged 65 years and older. The majority of this excess (59%) were treatments for dehydration, heat stroke, and heat exhaustion; with the exception of acute renal failure no other primary discharge diagnoses were significantly elevated. In contrast, analysis of comorbid conditions revealed 23% (p = 0.019) excess admissions of underlying cardiovascular diseases, 30% (p = 0.033) of diabetes, 52% (p = 0.011) of renal diseases, and 20% (p = 0.027) of nervous system disorders. Patient admissions for emphysema (p = 0.007) and epilepsy (p = 0.009) were also significantly elevated during the heat wave week.
Conclusions: The majority of excess hospital admissions were due to dehydration, heat stroke, and heat exhaustion, among people with underlying medical conditions. Short-term public health interventions to reduce heat-related morbidity should be directed toward these individuals to assure access to air conditioning and adequate fluid intake. Long-term prevention efforts should aim to improve the general health condition of people at risk through, among other things, regular physician-approved exercise.