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Heat doesn't just kill alone — it can make heart attack, strokes, dementia and menopause worse

Coverage of aging is supported in part by AARP Arizona

We know the summer heat is deadly. Last year, 645 people died due to heat-related deaths in Maricopa County. One researcher says that number is likely just the tip. 

Dr. Pope Moseley is a research professor in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University. He says there are many diseases that are impacted by heat. 

"As a physician, I will tell you that anytime there's a heat wave, the hospital fills up. But it doesn't fill up with people with heat illness, it fills up with heart attack, stroke, dementia, all sorts of things, all of those diagnoses are worsened by the heat."

That’s because he says heat is a force multiplier when it comes to certain conditions. Heat also plays a role in the number of opioid deaths in the state. 

"January, February, March, you have about 120, 150, 160. By July, it's over 300," Moseley said.

The heat can affect certain medications.

"The serotonin uptake release drugs; the SSRIs that are used in a large number of psychiatric diagnoses alter your heat management," Moseley said.

Moseley has also studied the effects of heat on postmenopausal women and the risks it can pose when estrogen levels drop. 

Heat can also potentially harm another population: menopausal women.

"Estrogen, estradiol is a very good agent at maintaining thermoregulation. So that's great. When you hit menopause, however, there are a number of studies showing that women postmenopausal are less heat tolerant," Moseley said.

And it’s not that the person feels hotter than usual. Rather, there are thermal regulation issues at play that could be a danger. Moseley says there are studies showing that hormone therapy could help.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct Dr. Pope Moseley's name.

Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.