The effect of the elevated temperatures on mortality experienced in Europe during the summer of 2003 was observed in several countries. This study, carried out in Spain, describes mortality between 1 June and 31 August and evaluates the effect of the heat wave on mortality. Observed deaths were obtained from official death registers from 50 provincial capitals. Observed deaths were compared with the expected number, estimated by applying a Poisson regression model to historical mortality series and adjusting for the upward trend and seasonality observed. Meteorological information was provided by the Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia (National Institute of Meteorology). Spain experienced three heat waves in 2003. The total associated excess deaths were 8% (43 212 observed deaths compared with 40 046 expected deaths). Excess deaths were only observed in those aged 75 years and over (15% more deaths than expected for the age group 75 to 84 and 29% for those aged 85 or over). This phenomenon (heat-associated excess mortality) is an emerging public health problem because of its increasing attributable risk, the aging of the Spanish population and its forecasted increasing frequency due to global warming. The implementation of alert and response systems based on monitoring of climate-related risks, emergency room activity and mortality, and strengthening the response capacity of the social and health services should be considered.