Several external parameters can influence the outcome of patients who are admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU). Beginning in early antiquity, Hippocrates (430 BC) observed in his treatise “Of Airs, Waters, and Places” that environmental factors influence the pathogenesis of the disease. Today, there is an ongoing discussion that human health may be very sensitive to sudden weather changes. Now, humankind faces climate change that poses a considerable threat to the environment, the global economy, social cohesion, and—of course—healthcare. Global warming leads to increased exposure of humankind to extreme meteorological variation. Measurable consequences for health can already be detectable as growing data indicates that weather conditions affect admission rates and mortality [1
]. In fact, sudden cold or warm waves are thought to increase myocardial oxygen consumption causing cardiac arrhythmias or angina attacks [2
]. In addition, cold temperatures lead to an increased release of catecholamines, which results in sympathomimetic stress [3
]. Weather effects can be divided into changes in temperature, heat and cold, into air pressure changes and into changes in humidity.
Extensive epidemiologic studies demonstrated a relationship between mortality and cold temperatures during winter or heatwaves [4
]. Out-of-hospital cardiac arrest occurs more often during winter [6
]. This applies especially to cardiovascular diseases (CVD): Rapid weather changes lead to a significantly increased emergency department visits due to CVD [7
]. Acute myocardial infarction occurs more often during winter and spring and less during summer in Japan [9
], USA, [10
], Sicily [11
], and Greece [12
]. Younger males are more affected by coronary heart disease during spring and mature males during winter. Furthermore, sudden pressure drops in winter are associated with a significant excess in cardiovascular disease mortality and a substantial rise in hospital admissions [13
]. This effect is also true for ischemic heart disease with an age-dependent peak. Younger patients are more sensitive to cold spells, while patients over 65 years seemed to be more affected by hot waves [15
]. For heatwaves, several countries and regions developed Heat–Health Warning Systems that can reduce mortality during heat seasons. Of note, seasonal patterns influence even suicide mortality rates [16
Most of the epidemiologic data is derived from registers. The present study investigates whether these observations could be reproduced in patients who were admitted to an ICU. Thus, the impact of several weather conditions on short- and long-term mortality in critically ill patients has been examined for the first time.
This investigation found no impact of meteorological conditions on the outcome of critically ill patients. Thus, this study contrasts with many observational and epidemiologic studies in different countries that found a significant relationship between the weather and several acute diseases or outcome parameters.
Large epidemiologic studies in the US were able to demonstrate a relationship between mortality and sudden onset of rising temperatures and decreased air pressure. Several diseases had been investigated in detail. In many countries, an acute myocardial infarction occurs more often during winter and spring and significantly less during summer (Japan [9
], US [10
], Sicily [11
], Greece [12
], and Iran [20
]). On the contrary, in Germany, the incidence of acute myocardial infarction rises during heat waves [1
]. This is in line with results from Canada, where myocardial infarction occurs in young women significantly more often during warm seasons [21
]. In Brazil, both extraordinarily high and low temperatures were associated with a rise in cardiovascular mortality [22
]. Highly urbanized cities seem to be more susceptible for heat waves [23
]. Colder temperatures are more often accompanied by increased air pollution with a higher NO2
concentration, which could explain the increased cardiovascular mortality in China, for example [24
]. In this investigation, there was a rise for myocardial infarction during heat waves, but no effect on short- or long-term mortality could be found.
Weather influences the admission rates for respiratory diseases, for example, in Spain during cold, dry weather or during humid, hotter weather [25
]. Japanese studies found an increased incidence combined with a poorer prognosis for ischemic stroke during winter or spring [26
]. In the cohort of this study, there were no seasonal differences in the reasons for admission to intensive care. Furthermore, the composition of the reasons for admission during cold spells and heat waves was also very similar, but in line with the existing data, there were more cases of myocardial infarction during hot spells. However, no increased mortality could be observed. In northern Europe, an impact of weather conditions on mortality could be identified too. Both cold temperatures during winter and heatwaves during summer increased mortality, with a relatively stronger effect for heat [4
]. Southern Europe showed a similar pattern with both very low and very high ambient temperatures raising mortality [27
]. However, the present study found no impact of extreme temperatures on ICU or long-term mortality.
It could be hypothesized that weather observations could be valid only for these special regions with their specific meteorological conditions. In other words, Central Europa might be inappropriate to show any weather-related effects at all. However, this hypothesis can be refuted: For the city of Jena, Rakers et al. had already investigated the effect of rapid weather changes. They found a significant impact on the incidence of ischemic stroke [28
]. The same investigators demonstrated that low atmospheric pressure and high relative air humidity increased the risk for epileptic seizures, whereas high ambient temperatures decreased the risk for seizure [29
]. Recently, Ostendorf et al. showed a significant impact of rapid weather changes on the incidence of cardiovascular diseases in the emergency department for Leipzig [7
]. As already referred above, there is sufficient data for Augsburg (Germany) showing significant effects of heat on the incidence of myocardial infarction. Furthermore, in central Europe, Plavcová et al. analyzed retrospective data of a 1.2 million population over a 16-year period (1994–2009) and found a significant effect of sudden air pressure changes on cardiovascular mortality, a significant excess in cardiovascular disease mortality and a significant rise in hospital admissions [13
]. Also, cold stress was identified as a major risk factor for mortality in Central Europe [15
]. In the same region, both cold and hot temperatures were associated with an increase in the mortality from ischemic heart disease with an age-dependent peak.
In Vienna, outer air temperature affects the body temperature of patients suffering from cardiac arrest. However, these alternations did not result in a significant difference in neurological outcome [30
]. Similarly, regarding only patients with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA), Nedelea et al. found a seasonal pattern for the incidence, but no increased mortality in Romania.
While patients over 65 years seemed to be more affected by hot waves, younger patients were more sensitive to cold spells [15
]. The present study found no significant increased susceptibility of older patients to weather conditions. This result is consistent with previous studies that also found no influence of patient age on the outcome of ventilated intensive care patients [31
Another important issue is the definition of “hot” and “cold spells”. There is no commonly accepted definition of heat and cold waves [18
]. There are many different climate zones with different social adaptation methods. Compared to other geographical regions, the climate in Jena can be defined as “moderate” [32
]. Therefore, the present study chooses a very strict definition, using only temperatures above or under the 1st or 99th percentile. These extreme weather deviations do not lead to an increased admission rate to ICU or to an increased ICU mortality.
In summary, there is sufficient data showing a significant impact of meteorological conditions on the incidence of several diseases and mortality in Jena and in Central Europe. Therefore, meteorological data from Jena can be considered very suitable for the present investigation. As stated before, no relationship between age, sex, cold or heat, air pressure or air humidity, on the one hand, and mortality, on the other hand, could be found in this investigation.
Another difference between this investigation and the cited study results might be that many studies used epidemiologic data. Consequently, many deaths may occur “unnoticed” outside the hospital without reaching any intensive care unit. This may explain a lack of significant meteorological impact on ICU mortality. However, many retrospective studies demonstrated a rise in hospital admissions during extreme weather conditions [11
This study suffers from limitations. It is retrospective and reflects only a single-center experience covering nonsurgical intensive care, excluding cases of acute trauma. Another issue is that the timing we used to set the temperature was at the time of admission to the ICU. Other models, such as the onset of the symptoms leading to the admission, might be more appropriate, but are difficult to capture. Our analysis compensates for this with the effects of the seasons and the “spells”, which we examined and which each represent several days—and could not demonstrate any effect.
As discussed above, a non-insignificant part of meteorological conditions depends on geography. The impact of weather conditions was evaluated for Jena (Germany), which might be considered representative of central-western Europe. Results may, of course, be different for regions with another type of climate. Most patients reached the hospital by ground-based rescue equipment and in moderate transport time. This, too, cannot necessarily be transferred to other care structures. A global multicenter approach is warranted for statements that are more general.
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