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Heat stress: what is this phenomenon that can occur during extreme heat and what are the health risks?

  • June 21, 2024
  • 6 Min
  • 20

If summer is struggling to rear its head in mainland France, certain regions of the world are on the contrary exposed to intense heat which can cause serious health consequences. Indeed, this year, more than 900 pilgrims died from the heat during the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, where temperatures exceeded 52 degrees Celsius. Dangerous heat, even fatal for the human body.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, Europe experienced a record number of days of “extreme heat stress” in 2023, constantly increasing in recent years. Moreover, heat-related mortality has increased by around 30% over the last 20 years and heat-related deaths soared in 94% of European regions surveyed. In France, we counted more than 5,000 deaths following in the heatwave of summer 2023which Météo France ranked as the fourth hottest summer in the country since 1900. Periods of extreme heat are becoming more and more frequent, and so are the consequences they can have on health.

Extreme heat: what is heat stress, which can endanger health?

But what heat stress Provoked by strong heat ? According to the website of the University of Iowa (United States), heat stress occurs when the body cannot get rid of excess heattherefore the body temperature increases and heart rate increases. We speak of heat stress when the temperature exceeds 26 degrees Celsius, and it is divided into four categories: moderate, strong, very strong and extreme, which occurs when the temperature exceeds 46 degrees Celsius.

If thermal stress is the consequence of extreme heat, it is also influenced by wind speed, sunshine, heat emitted by the environment, but above all by humidity. Indeed, humidity in the air can prevent sweat from evaporating and the body from regulating its temperature, which promotes heat stress.

Heat stress: what are the risks for the body?

According to the World Meteorological Organization 500,000 people are victims of heat stress each year, and these figures would be incomplete. “Heat is a silent killer, because the symptoms are not that obvious, and when there are underlying health conditions, the consequences can be very serious, even catastrophic.”, explained to Parisian Alejandro Saez Reale, member of the World Meteorological Organization.

Indeed, heat stress can have many serious consequences on the bodyas dehydrationblood circulation problems, increased pulse, cramps, exhaustion, des insolationscardiovascular problems, or even death. Younger and older people are particularly at risk in the face of heat stress.

Heatwave: how to protect yourself from heat stress and its consequences?

To avoid heat stress and its health dangers, it is recommended to keep your body at the right temperature. The Health Insurance website reminds good practices such as constantly hydrating yourself by drinking water and wetting your body, staying in the shade or in cool places, eating fresh and balanced meals, or even favoring gentle activities.

Sources :

  • Europe sees widespread flooding and severe heatwaves in 2023 – World Meteorological Organization – April 22, 2024
  • Summer 2023 heatwave: more than 5,000 deaths due to heat – – February 19, 2024
  • “A silent killer”: what is heat stress, which causes the death of more than 500,000 people each year? – Le Parisien – June 19, 2024
  • What is Heat Stress? – Université d’Iowa
  • What to do in the event of a heatwave or extreme heat? –
author avatar
Emilie Biechy-Tournade