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Heat-related hospital visits are on the rise in metro Phoenix

Daytime highs in Phoenix have been at or above 110 degrees for two weeks now. That’s leading to an  increase in heat-related hospital visits in Maricopa County.

Dr. Frank LoVecchio is an emergency physician with Valleywise Health. He told KJZZ News this has been the busiest summer he can remember for heat-related illnesses.

"About 15% to 20% of people that we see right now are having something related to heat," LoVecchio said, adding that heat can exacerbate a number of underlying health conditions such as heart disease or psychiatric illnesses. "It's an easy tipping point, just a little bit of heat for a short bit of time." 

→  Phoenix Fire Department faces more calls for heat-related emergencies

But LoVecchio said two or three times per day he’s seeing extreme effects of heat, when patients lose consciousness due to heat stroke.

“Those people we have to be very, very aggressive on," LoVecchio said. "We usually ice them down as quick as we can because the brain doesn’t like those super high temperatures." 

In the worst cases, patients’ body temperatures are up to 107 degrees, which LoVecchio said, can be extremely dangerous or even deadly.

“It can lead to seizures, it can lead to decreased oxygen, decreased blood flow, and unfortunately, if you do get brain damage, many times it’s irreversible,” LoVecchio said. 

So far this year,  Maricopa County has confirmed 12 heat-related deaths with 55 more under investigation. Last year, heat caused a record 425 deaths in the county.

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Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.