Sex differences in mortality after heat waves: are elderly women at higher risk?

  • Yvette van Steen
  • Anna-Maria Ntarladima
  • Rick Grobbee
  • Derek Karssenberg
  • Ilonca VaartjesEmail author


Background and objective

Climate change leads to more frequent, intense and longer-lasting heat waves which can have severe health outcomes. The elderly are a high-risk population for heat-related mortality and some studies suggested that elderly women are more affected by extreme heat than men. This study aimed to review the presence of sex-specific results in studies performed on mortality in elderly (> 65 years old) after heat waves in Europe.


A literature search was conducted in July 2017 on papers published in databases Pubmed and Web of Science between January 2000 and December 2016.


68 papers that included mortality data for elderly after heat waves were identified. The 13 of them which presented results distinguished by sex and age group were included in the review. Eight studies showed worse health outcome for elderly women compared to men. One study showed higher mortality rates for men, two found no sex differences and two studies presented inconsistent results.


Studies that present sex-stratified data on mortality after heat waves seem to indicate that elderly women are at higher risk than men. Future research is warranted to validate this finding. Furthermore, a better understanding on the underlying physiological or social mechanisms for possible sex and gender differences in excessive deaths for this vulnerable population is needed to set up appropriate policy measures.


Heat waves Sex differences Elderly Mortality Gender 



This work was supported and funded by the Global Geo Health Data Center, Utrecht University.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yvette van Steen
    • 1
  • Anna-Maria Ntarladima
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Rick Grobbee
    • 2
    • 4
  • Derek Karssenberg
    • 3
    • 4
  • Ilonca Vaartjes
    • 2
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary CareUniversity Medical Center UtrechtUtrechtThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of Physical Geography, Faculty of GeosciencesUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Global Geo Health Data CenterUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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