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Do You Know Who is at Risk?

Have you ever considered that heatwaves might be the deadliest natural hazard we face? It’s true—excessive temperatures kill more people than any other natural disaster. High heat can harm every part of our bodies and may lead to cancer, strokes, and heart attacks.

Since 1950, India’s mean temperature has risen by 0.15°C per decade, with warm days and nights increasing by seven and three days per decade, respectively, from 1951 to 2015. Twenty-three plain and coastal states are highly vulnerable to heat impacts, while hilly regions also face significantly higher temperatures than in past decades.

Dr Amita Jain, one of the top laparoscopic and general surgeons in Delhi discusses the meaning and consequences of heatwaves on human health in this article.

What is a Heatwave?

A heat wave is characterized by a prolonged period of excessively hot weather, accompanied by temperatures that significantly exceed the average for a specific region and time of year. It typically involves a daily maximum temperature that surpasses the local average by 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) or more, sustained over at least five consecutive days.

Unlike merely high temperatures, a heat wave represents a notable deviation from normal conditions, making it distinct from typical seasonal warmth.

The threshold for defining a heat wave varies depending on local climate norms, with some areas requiring temperatures as high as 40 degrees Celsius for plains and 30 degrees Celsius for hilly regions in India to qualify as a heat wave.

Heatwaves aren’t just about daytime highs but also about unusually warm nights. Hotter nights strain your body, making it harder to stay cool, leading to poor sleep and increased dehydration, especially with fans.

What are the Causes?

Some of the causes include:

High-Pressure Systems (Anticyclones):

-Extended periods of high-pressure force hot air downward and trap it near the ground.

-The sinking air compresses and heats up, leading to extreme heat conditions.

-Acts like a lock that prevents hot air from rising, further increasing temperatures.

Climate Change:

-Alters global weather patterns and increases the likelihood of prolonged high-pressure systems.

-Rising global temperatures escalate the frequency, severity, and duration of heat waves.

-Baseline temperature increase exacerbates the intensity of extreme heat events.

Stagnant Atmospheric Conditions:

-Persistent stationary high-pressure systems over a region prevent air mass movement.

-Lack of mixing and moderation of temperatures results in prolonged hot weather.

Jet Stream Changes:

-Jet stream patterns can transport hot air from equatorial regions to higher latitudes.

-When the jet stream dips southward, it intensifies heat conditions in affected areas.

Urban Heat Island Effect:

-Urban areas experience higher temperatures due to human activities and infrastructure.

-Concrete and asphalt store heat during the day and release it slowly at night.

-Impedes nighttime cooling, maintaining higher temperatures compared to rural areas.

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What is its Impact on Human Health/Body?

Some of the impacts on human health are:

Heat Cramps

Muscle pains or spasms due to electrolyte imbalance from sweating, often during strenuous activity.

Heat Exhaustion

Results from the body struggling to cool itself, causing Fatigue, Headache, Lightheadedness, Nausea, Dry mouth, and Vomiting.

Heat Stroke

A medical emergency where the body fails to regulate temperature, leading to high body temperature, lack of sweating, hot/red/dry skin, rapid pulse, confusion, seizures, and coma.

Physiological Effects

Increased heart rate, slower muscle function, heavier breathing, reduced urination, and decreased blood flow to organs like the GI tract and kidneys, potentially causing organ damage.


Increased fluid loss through sweat can lead to dehydration, impairing bodily functions and potentially causing kidney complications.

Heat Rash

Skin irritation due to excessive sweating, which can lead to discomfort and secondary infections.

Economic Impact

Reduced work hours due to high temperatures can strain livelihoods, especially in outdoor settings, impacting economic stability and access to necessities.

Who is At Risk?


With fewer sweat glands, older individuals struggle more to regulate their body temperature during heatwaves.


Their higher metabolic rate and less efficient thermoregulation compared to adults increase their susceptibility to heat-related issues, especially when engaged in outdoor activities.


The combination of physical exertion, exposure to heat, and often wearing protective gear can predispose athletes to heat illnesses.

Outdoor workers: Those in agriculture, construction, or similar industries, lacking access to cooling environments, face heightened risks of heat-related illnesses and injuries.

What are the Preventive Tips?

You need to:

  • Stay well-hydrated.
  • Wear comfortable clothing that helps you breathe properly.
  • Use proper protection when you are outdoors.

Once you understand the profound impact of heatwaves, from their physiological toll on the body to their economic implications, it becomes clear that vulnerable populations such as the elderly, children, athletes, and outdoor workers are particularly at risk. Mitigating these risks demands urgent action through improved infrastructure, public health strategies, and climate resilience measures.

Dr Amita Jain - Best Laparoscopy Surgeon in Delhi

Dr Amita Jain is a surgeon with highest degree of professional competence, precision and surgical craftsmanship. Performed all complicated general surgery procedures with in depth knowledge of invasive and few minimal invasive and onco surgical techniques. Underwent special training in trauma, executed various trauma-related complex life-saving neurosurgical procedures, reconstructed injured mangled limbs and performed vascular and reconstructive procedures with critical care.

Dr Amita Jain holds 28 plus years of rich experience in Trauma and General Laparoscopic Surgeries (including Gallbladder stone removalappendix removalhernia repair surgery, piles and fissure surgeries). She was the Professor Surgery of at the Army College of Medical Sciences and Base Hospital Delhi Cantt. In 1994 she was commissioned as Surgeon under the United Nations Mission in Congo. From 2020 to 2022, she worked with Bansals Hospital. Currently, Dr Amita Jain is the Senior Consultant, (Speciality: General and Laparoscopic Surgeon) at Artemis Lite Hospital, New Delhi