Posted on Jul 20, 2023, 5 p.m.
For many people, extreme heat can prove to be hazardous to heart health, such as older adults, those with obesity, hypertension, or those with a history of heart disease and stroke. As temperatures begin to climb this summer perhaps it is time for a little refresher on a few precautions.
Some people can find it difficult to deal with temperatures in the 80s with high humidity causing a dangerous heat index let alone temperatures exceeding 100°F, and it can be hard on the heart as an added bonus. The heat and dehydration during these times cause the heart to work harder, trying to cool itself by shifting blood from major organs to underneath the skin. Unfortunately, this shift causes the heart to pump even more blood which puts it under significantly more stress. This is one of the reasons why it is essential to stay hydrated as it helps the heart to pump blood more easily through the vessels to the muscle, and hydration also helps our muscles to work more efficiently.
According to a study published in Circulation when temperatures reach extremes of an average daily temperature of 109°F the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease may double or even triple. Another study presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2019 indicated that the more temperatures fluctuate during summer months the more severe strokes may become.
“While heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable, more than 700 people in the United States are killed by extreme heat every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you have heart disease or have had a stroke or you’re older than 50 or overweight, it’s extremely important to take special precautions in the heat to protect your health,” said Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Sc.M., FAHA, past president of the American Heart Association and chair of the department of preventive medicine, the Eileen M. Foell Professor of Heart Research and professor of preventive medicine, medicine and pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago “Some medications like angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers and diuretics, which affect blood pressure responses or deplete the body of sodium, can exaggerate the body’s response to heat and cause you to feel ill in extreme heat. But don’t stop taking your medicines. Learn how to keep cool and talk to your doctor about any concerns.”
It is important to take precautions in the heat and certain people should take extra precautions such as the elderly and infants because they are more vulnerable to problems arising from the heat, but extreme temperatures can cause health issues for anyone, including those who are not taking any medications for cardiovascular conditions.
“Staying hydrated is key. It is easy to get dehydrated even if you don’t think you’re thirsty,” Lloyd-Jones said. “Drink water before, during and after going outside in hot weather. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty. And the best way to know if you are getting enough fluid is to monitor your urine output and make sure the urine color is pale, not dark or concentrated.”
The American Heart Association suggests that during hot temperatures people should:
- Avoid going outside when the sun is at its strongest
- Wear lightweight and light-colored clothing that is made from breathable fabrics
- Wearing a hat and sunglasses
- Applying a sunscreen with at least SPF15 and reapplying as required
- Staying hydrated by drinking water before, during and after going outside or exercising
- Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic drinks
- Take regular breaks in the shade or cool place to hydrate and rest before continuing
- Follow your doctor’s orders, and continue with all recommendations including medications
Symptoms and signs that you may be experiencing too much heat
- Heavy sweating
- Cold, moist skin, chills
- Fast, shallow breathing
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Dizziness and/or fainting
- A weak and rapid pulse
If you are experiencing these symptoms please move to a cooler place, stop what you are doing, and cool down immediately, possibly by dousing yourself with water and rehydrating. You may even need to seek medical attention.
Symptoms of heat stroke:
- High fever
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Confusion and/or unconsciousness
- Strong and rapid pulse
- Warm, dry skin with no sweating
- Throbbing headaches
While they can appear to be somewhat similar to a certain degree, heat stroke is not the same as a stroke. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel to the brain is blocked by a clot or bursts, causing a decrease in oxygen flow to the brain.
The world is a big place with lots of things to see, games to be played, and adventures to be experienced. You and your family can still have fun and be active outdoors this summer despite the heat, you just need to take some precautions. Summertime is great for activities like walking, swimming, biking, skating, jumping rope, roller skating, water polo, bocce ball, croquet, golf, lawn bowling, dancing, disc golf, frisbee, surfing, badminton, kayaking, beach volleyball, archery, windsurfing, scuba diving, flying a kite, snorkeling, canyoning, gardening, and white river rafting.
While you are outside this summer please remember to stay hydrated and keep cool as you refuel. Light healthy pre and post-snacks can also help you to stay cool and hydrated. When you are packing up food to take along for your day think about packing some chilled or frozen fruits, homemade popsicles made from 100% fruit juice, fruit smoothies, cold salads that are loaded with veggies, nuts, seeds, crisp chilled raw veggies, chilled raw fruits, maybe a homemade trail mix, and plenty of cold sparkling water with slices of citrus or cucumber in it.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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