Does Heat Affect My Cardiovascular Disease?
Rising temperatures put patients with heart conditions at risk. Here’s how to stay safe this summer.
There’s nothing quite like spending a sunny summer day outside with friends and family. But as we approach the summer season in Arizona, temperatures are about to spike. The Scottsdale area reached a scorching 108°F last June, and saw an even hotter July. While these extreme temperatures can cause anyone discomfort, they pose a real danger to individuals with heart conditions.
When we’re in a hot environment, our hearts pump extra blood to the skin — up to four times more than normal — to activate our sweat glands. Every teaspoon of sweat cools our blood stream by two degrees when it’s evaporated, but extremely hot and humid days make this evaporation difficult. Instead of cooling us down, sweat pools on the body and contributes to dehydration, further compounding the issue.
Cardiovascular Disease and Heat Stroke
Healthy individuals can handle the body’s response to heat without a problem. But those who have experienced a heart attack or have heart conditions like congenital heart disease and coronary artery disease are at risk of experiencing heat stroke. These patients are unable to properly regulate their body temperature for several reasons.
First, our bodies produce stress hormones to combat the loss of sodium and potassium through sweat. Paired with depleted mineral levels and an increase in heart rate, this flood of hormones can be too much for a damaged heart to handle. Further, in hot environments, the heart must work harder to circulate blood to the skin. Hearts that are weakened as a result of congenital disease or a past heart attack may be unable to properly fulfill this cooling function.
Finally, certain cardiovascular medications inhibit the body’s ability to regulate heat. For instance, beta blockers prevent the heart from beating quickly enough to circulate blood to the skin and trigger the sweat glands, and diuretics exacerbate the problem due to their dehydrating properties. Despite these side effects, it’s important for patients to continue taking their medications as prescribed by their doctor.
Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is a potentially life-threatening condition that can cause damage to the heart, brain, muscles, and kidneys. You may have heat stroke if you begin to experience:
High body temperature: A fever of 104°F or more is a clear indication that your body isn’t able to cool itself down.
Unusual behavior: Heat stroke may cause you to slur your speech or make you feel confused, delirious, or agitated.
Flushed skin: Your skin may become red and feel dry and hot to the touch.
Difficulty breathing: Shallow, rapid breaths are a sign your body is under significant strain.
Quickened heart rate: Your pulse and head will likely start throbbing as your heart struggles to keep enough blood pumping to the surface of the skin.
How to Stay Safe
It’s important to take steps to avoid not only heat stroke, but heat exhaustion — a heat-related sickness that can develop over days of exposure to high temperatures and lead to heat stroke if left untreated. Taking a few simple precautionary measures can help you stay safe:
Stay hydrated: It’s important to replace nutrients lost through sweat with plenty of water and electrolyte-filled beverages, especially before and after exercise. Avoid dehydrating drinks like alcohol and beverages high in caffeine.
Dress appropriately: Wear lightweight, breathable clothing and footwear that allow heat to escape. Light-colored clothing will also help keep you cool by reflecting the sun’s rays when you’re outdoors.
Limit strenuous activity: Try to avoid vigorous workouts that increase your temperature and push your body to sweat more. Make sure to take regular breaks in the shade to cool down.
Avoid peak sunlight hours: Stay inside as much as possible between noon and 3:00 in the afternoon, when the sun is at its strongest.
Apply sunscreen: Sunburns not only increase your chances of developing skin cancer, they also make it harder for your body to stay cool.
Eat right: Refreshing, water-rich foods like fruit, salads, and gazpacho help you stay hydrated and keep your stomach from feeling overloaded.
If you have a heart condition or have experienced a heart attack, consider scheduling a consultation with Tri-City Cardiology by calling 480-835-6100 or clicking here. Our team of cardiovascular experts can help you stay safe this summer.