Dangers and protections of rising temps for people on common medicines

We know that as temperatures rise, so do many health risks: not just for heat stroke and dehydration but also for heart disease, respiratory diseases, and deaths overall. But are there special dangers—and protections—for people who take various common drugs? As the influence of climate change becomes more and more apparent, a Penn pharmacoepidemiology team led by Sean Hennessy has been looking into related, increasingly important questions.

A person sits in front of a fan holding shirt front open to cool off, indicating rising temperatures

They began looking at the issue in 2014. A study that year using Medicaid data reported encouraging results for the many heart failure patients who take at least 40 mg per day of the diuretic furosemide (also known as Lasix). “Our findings provide evidence that adding potassium supplementation may increase survival rates significantly among patients taking loop diuretics,” said the study’s lead author, Charles E. Leonard. Health risks are known to increase both as the mercury rises above moderate temperatures and as it falls below—but these results, along with climate trends, led the team to concentrate on the effects of heat. Could they find convincing evidence that potassium betters survival rates even more in hot temperatures? 

2019 brought further strong suggestions for patients on furosemide. A study led by first author Young Hee Nam, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Informatics, found that the survival benefit of prescription potassium supplements increased as daily outdoor temperatures increased—a time when people with heart disease may be at particularly high risk as they lose potassium when they sweat.

The same year, Nam also led a study that found it may be especially important for those who need statins—cholesterol-lowering drugs that are one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the U.S—to take those medications on hot days. 

Read more at Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics