BACKGROUND: This study examined the association between unusually high temperature and daily mortality (1997-2007) and hospital admissions (1997-2010) in the Sydney Greater Metropolitan Region (GMR) to assist in the development of targeted health programs designed to minimise the public health impact of extreme heat. METHODS: Sydney GMR was categorized into five climate zones. Heat-events were defined as severe or extreme. Using a time-stratified case-crossover design with a conditional logistic regression model we adjusted for influenza epidemics, public holidays, and climate zone. Odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals were estimated for associations between daily mortality and hospital admissions with heat-event days compared to non-heat event days for single and three day heat-events. RESULTS: All-cause mortality overall had similar magnitude associations with single day and three day extreme and severe events as did all cardiovascular mortality. Respiratory mortality was associated with single day and three day severe events (95th percentile, lag0: OR = 1.14; 95%CI: 1.04 to 1.24). Diabetes mortality had similar magnitude associations with single day and three day severe events (95th percentile, lag0: OR = 1.22; 95%CI: 1.03 to 1.46) but was not associated with extreme events. Hospital admissions for heat related injuries, dehydration, and other fluid disorders were associated with single day and three day extreme and severe events. Contrary to our findings for mortality, we found inconsistent and sometimes inverse associations for extreme and severe events with cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease hospital admissions. Controlling for air pollutants did not influence the mortality associations but reduced the magnitude of the associations with hospital admissions particularly for ozone and respiratory disease. CONCLUSIONS: Single and three day events of unusually high temperatures in Sydney are associated with similar magnitude increases in mortality and hospital admissions. The trend towards an inverse association between cardio-vascular admissions and heat-events and the strong positive association between cardio-vascular mortality and heat-events suggests these events may lead to a rapid deterioration in persons with existing cardio-vascular disease resulting in death. To reduce the adverse effects of high temperatures over multiple days, and less extreme but more frequent temperatures over single days, targeted public health messages are critical.