Working in extreme heat puts stress on the fetus: study

Unborn babies of women who work in extreme heat are at risk. Not only this, but even before pregnant women are affected, their fetuses can show symptoms of its stress, new research from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (UK) shows.

Risk of stress

The risk of stress in the fetus increased by 17 per cent for every one degree Celsius increase in heat stress, the study said. Similarly, an increase in maternal body temperature and heart rate was associated with a 12 per cent increase in fetal stress. Significantly, this has been revealed in increased fetal heart rate and decreased blood flow to the placenta.

The study, involving 92 pregnant Gambian women farmers, is the first to measure the effects of heat stress on the fetuses of female field workers.

The results, published in the scientific journal ‘The Lancet Planetary Health, indicate that for each degree Celsius increase in exposure to heat stress there was a 17 per cent increase in fetal stress, indicated by an increase in heart rate. fetus and slowing of blood flow through the umbilical cord.

Risk of stress to fetus increased

The study lasted for seven months, during which heat stress was recorded on embryos in 34 per cent of the cases during visits to the fields. The average air temperature during this entire period was recorded at 33.5 °C. In the study, the scientists measured the humidity of the environment, the temperature of the women as well as the heart rates of the expectant mothers and their fetuses during working hours.

The researchers found that when a woman’s body temperature and heart rate increased by one category on the heat stress index, the risk of stress to the fetus increased by 20 per cent. The increased stress on the fetus is indicated by a heart rate greater than 160 beats per minute and reduced blood flow to the placenta on an ultrasound scan.

Climate change increased extreme temperatures

The study, led by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and its Medical Research Council Unit in The Gambia, has been published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health. Research results have shown that even a slight increase in body temperature due to physical exertion in extreme heat can cause physiological stress in both mother and fetus.

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In the words of Dr Ana Bonell, lead author and Wellcome Trust Global Health Clinical PhD Fellow, “Climate change has caused increasingly extreme temperatures around the world and sub-Saharan Africa is especially vulnerable to its effects.”

“Our study has revealed that pregnant subsistence farmers in the Gambia often experience extreme heat levels above recommended limits for working outdoors, and that this can have significant effects on their health and that of their babies. The results suggest that we need to find effective interventions to protect these women and reduce adverse birth outcomes,” she says.

The study lasted for seven months, during which heat stress was recorded on embryos in 34 per cent of the cases during visits to the fields. The average air temperature during this entire period was recorded at 33.5 °C. In the study, the scientists measured the humidity of the environment, the temperature of the women as well as the heart rates of the expectant mothers and their fetuses during working hours.

The researchers found that when a woman’s body temperature and heart rate increased by one category on the heat stress index, the risk of stress to the fetus increased by 20 per cent. The increased stress on the fetus is indicated by a heart rate greater than 160 beats per minute and reduced blood flow to the placenta on an ultrasound scan.

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