Doctors are calling for a new field of “climatic cardiology”

A new medical specialty is needed to address the links between climate change and heart disease, say a group of experts at British Medical Journal† “Climate Cardiology,” they call the new specialty that can benefit both patients and the planet.

Greenhouse gas emissions are the highest in at least 800,000 years. Most human emissions come from burning fossil fuels, agriculture, deforestation, and meat production. But the healthcare sector also accounts for nearly 4.5 percent of the total. The authors write that the US health care sector accounts for approximately 10 percent of the total.

They warned that the environmental and social impacts of climate change will increase risk factors for cardiovascular disease this century.

Effects on cardiovascular disease

Climate change leads to extreme weather events, air pollution, ecosystem collapse, reduced food production, and reduced nutritional quality of important grain crops. The authors explained that all of these factors have direct and indirect effects on cardiovascular health.

In 2019, high temperatures were responsible for an estimated 93,000 cardiovascular deaths worldwide.

The numbers speak for themselves: In 2019, high temperatures were responsible for an estimated 93,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease worldwide.

Extreme weather has also been linked to trauma, stress and depression — all risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Air pollution, industrial emissions, and wildfires are also responsible for one in five (3.54 million) cardiovascular deaths worldwide.

Drought, desertification, warming and ocean acidification affect the food supply, and diets low in fresh produce, whole grains and fish cause more than 3 million cardiovascular disease deaths each year worldwide.

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In addition, the effects of climate change are leading to the migration of hundreds of millions of people, often to places that are not adequately equipped to provide adequate cardiovascular health care.

less meat

However, there are opportunities to simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce cardiovascular disease, the authors say.

First, a change in our diet, by increasing plant foods and decreasing red meat. This is high in saturated fat, which is a known risk factor for heart disease and responsible for hundreds of thousands of cardiovascular deaths each year.

Switching to more walking and cycling will improve cardiovascular health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Switching to more walking and cycling will improve cardiovascular health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

More green space in residential areas helps reduce stress and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Also, the authors say, switching from coal, oil and gas to solar, wind and hydro power could avert millions of deaths in the coming years.

Climatic heart disease

Finally, healthcare itself can also reduce its environmental footprint, by facilitating more remote consultations, promoting local ambulatory care and self-care, and reducing overtreatment and unnecessary interventions.

Health systems must also invest in better planning and early warning systems to prepare for more patients due to climate change. The authors say medical schools should pay more attention to research into environmental health and sustainable practices in health care.

They warn that “the healthcare sector must take urgent action to prevent the climate crisis from undermining cardiovascular health.” “A new field of climate cardiology could explore and implement these capabilities to protect patients and the planet.”

Megan Vasquez

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