The Surprising Way Climate Change Can Affect Your Health

According to a recent retrospective study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, climate change could lead to an increase in hospitalizations for hyponatremia — a condition characterized by drastically low levels of sodium. Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden analyzed nearly a decades' worth of data from more than 11,000 adult patients hospitalized with hyponatremia in order to study the incidence rates for the condition during certain outdoor temperatures (via HealthDay News).

The study's findings revealed that patients were 10 times more likely to require hospitalization for hyponatremia on the hottest days compared to the coolest periods, with women and older adults at an increased risk. In addition, patients over the age of 80 were 15 times more likely to end up in the hospital with hyponatremia during periods of extreme heat.

While the incidence of hyponatremia was relatively stable between 14 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, cases started to increase when the temperature climbed above 59 degrees (per HealthDay News). After comparing this data with climate model projections for 2050, researchers concluded that an increase of 1.6 to 3.8 degrees could cause hospitalizations for hyponatremia to surge by 6.3% to 13.9%.

How hyponatremia can affect the body

Hyponatremia is an electrolyte disorder that causes low levels of sodium in the blood. According to Medical News Today, around 30% of all hospitalized patients are affected by the condition. Although mild cases of hyponatremia tend to be asymptomatic, you can experience more severe symptoms if your sodium levels decrease too much. That's because your body needs sodium in order to perform its most basic functions. In fact, sodium is needed to help regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and brain activity.

If you don't have enough sodium in your blood, however, you can experience a range of unpleasant and concerning symptoms, including nausea, headaches, difficulty concentrating, confusion, seizures, and even coma (per Medical News Today). This is often the result of a loss of fluids and electrolytes and can be caused by sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, or an underlying health condition. However, hyponatremia tends to be more prevalent during the summer months. That's because periods of extreme heat can lead to dehydration, causing your body to lose water and electrolytes.