The hot, humid days of summer aren’t just unpleasant — they can be dangerous to your health. Spending too much time in the heat can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion and, in rare instances, potentially deadly heatstroke.
If you have a heart condition, the heat poses a special risk: it makes your heart work harder, which can result in serious complications. People who have weakened hearts and elderly people don’t respond to these stresses as well as younger people with strong, healthy hearts. That's why older adults and heart patients are more susceptible to heatstroke and heat exhaustion. In addition, some common medications given for heart problems can make dehydration worse.
How the heat puts stress on your heart
During summer, your body works overtime to keep cool. All that work can be stressful on your heart in two different ways. The first is radiation. To keep cool, your body must reroute its blood flow so more of it goes to the skin. The hotter the day, the more blood is circulated each minute to keep you cool.
The second stressor on your heart is evaporation. As the hot, dry air evaporates sweat off your skin, it pulls not only heat and moisture, but also sodium, potassium and other minerals essential to keeping your body functioning properly. To minimize the loss of these minerals, your body will begin to retain water, which adds stress to the cardiovascular system.
How to avoid dehydration, heatstroke and heat exhaustion this summer
Protect your heart by taking these simple precautions in the heat.
Limit your physical activity outside. Avoid doing too much physical activity outdoors during peak sun and heat hours (generally 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
Drink lots of water. The importance of drinking enough water cannot be overstated, especially during the summer months. Keep a water bottle or insulated cup of water with you and sip on it throughout the day. Refill your bottle several times during the course of the day (approximately once per hour) to ensure you’re taking in enough water. If you plan to exercise outdoors, drink more water than normal both before and after your workout. Avoid sugary drinks, caffeinated beverages and alcohol, because they can actually cause you to become more dehydrated.
Keep cool. Spending the bulk of your time in an air-conditioned space is best for your heart when the summer heat is scorching. If you don't have A/C in your home, plan to spend a few hours during the hottest part of the day at a movie theater, library, mall or grocery store. Taking a cool shower or bath can also help keep your body cool. When you do plan to be outside, dress appropriately with lightweight, light-colored clothing in breathable fabrics. Wear a hat and/or sunglasses and well-ventilated shoes.
Know the warning signs of heat illness. Heat-related problems such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke don’t come without symptoms. Educate yourself on these signs so you’ll know exactly when to seek medical attention. Be on the lookout for:
- nausea or vomiting
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- disorientation or confusion
- muscle weakness or twitches
- cool, moist skin (with heat exhaustion)
- dry, hot and red skin (with heatstroke)
- rapid or weak pulse
- rapid or shallow breathing
If you or someone around you is experiencing any of these symptoms or becomes unconscious, seek immediate medical care.
If you have an existing heart condition and have questions about any heat-related heart issues, contact Goshen Heart & Vascular Center today at (574) 533-7476.