AHA’s Tips for Staying Heart-Healthy in the Heat
If you haven’t stepped outside yet this week, you’re lucky. The temperature and humidity are battling it out to see which one can reach a record number the fastest, and quite frankly it would be nice if both were unsuccessful.
Heat undoubtedly takes a toll on the body, and many may not know that the heart is more vulnerable to complications in hot weather. The American Heart Association (AHA) encourages people to be more mindful of their heart health in the summer months especially.
Circulation, AHA’s journal, recently published research stating that in extreme temperatures with an average of 109 degrees Fahrenheit, deaths resulting from cardiovascular disease can double or triple. The American Stroke Association featured a study at the International Stroke Conference detailing how the more temperatures fluctuate throughout the summer, the more severe strokes can be.
“If you’re a heart patient, older than 50 or overweight, the American Heart Association suggests you take special precautions in the heat to protect your heart,” says Dr. Thomas Conley, president of the AHA-Arkansas board of directors and an interventional cardiology specialist at Baptist Health Heart Institute/Arkansas Cardiology Clinic-North Little Rock. “Some heart 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 prescriptions. Learn how to keep cool and talk to your doctor about any concerns.”
Anyone is susceptible to health risks in the heat even if they do not have an underlying heart condition or are on medication. Sweating can only do so much, and we don’t have the option to pant like dogs. Human bodies cool down by moving blood from major organs to beneath the skin. This transition causes the heart to pump more blood and undergo varying amounts of stress.
Hydration is always key to staying cool outside as dehydration can further overwork the heart, but there are a few more ways AHA encourages everyone to practice in high temperatures.
The following are tips from the American Heart Association to stay healthy in the heat:
- Watch the clock: It’s best to avoid the outdoors in the early afternoon (about noon to 3 p.m.) because the sun is usually at its strongest, putting you at higher risk for heat-related illnesses.
- Dress for the heat: Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing in breathable fabrics such as cotton, or a newer fabric that repels sweat. Add a hat and sunglasses. Before you get started, apply a water-resistant sunscreen with at least SPF 15, and reapply it every two hours.
- Drink up: Stay hydrated by drinking a few cups of water before, during and after going outside or exercising. Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.
- Take regular breaks: Find some shade or a cool place, stop for a few minutes, hydrate and start again.
- Follow the doctor’s orders: Continue to take all medications as prescribed.
Heat exhaustion and heat strokes are serious conditions that can be dangerous if ignored. However, heat exhaustion, while not great on the heart or the body, can be easily treated at home with the proper methods. A heat stroke requires immediate medical attention. Knowing the signs of both is important to protect yourself and your loved ones.
The American Heart Association provides the following list of symptoms for heat exhaustion:
- heavy sweating
- cold, moist skin, chills
- dizziness or fainting (syncope)
- a weak and rapid pulse
- muscle cramps
- fast, shallow breathing
- nausea, vomiting or both
If you or someone you know experiences any of the symptoms above, move to a cooler place, stop doing activity and soak in cold water while drinking water. If the symptoms are alarming or worsen, seek medical attention.
The American Heart Association provides the following list of symptoms for heat stroke:
- warm, dry skin with no sweating
- strong and rapid pulse
- confusion and/or unconsciousness
- high fever
- throbbing headaches
- nausea, vomiting or both
If any of the symptoms above are experienced, seek medical attention immediately. Heat stroke is not the same as a stroke, but it can be just as serious.
Now that you know what to do and what’s happening inside the body, stay hydrated, stay cool and have a great rest of your summer.
Find more information about staying safe and healthy in the heat below:
- Summer heat risks for pregnant women
- How to stay active in hot weather
- How much water do you need?
- Protect your heart during the dog days of summer
- Infographic on heat stroke vs. stroke
READ MORE: Ditch the Keys, Reap the Rewards