Features July 2019 Issue

Can Your Heart Stand the Heat?

Take these steps to prevent summer heat from aggravating your heart condition.

It's the peak of summer, and winter is a distant memory. The sun attracts us like ants to a picnic, and we can't wait to beoutdoors.

If you have any form of cardiovascular disease (CVD), however, you need to be cautious about how much time you spend in the heat.

"Studies have suggested that CVD is sensitive to extremes of hot, as well as cold," says Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Michael Rocco, MD. "People with heart disease are particularly vulnerable."

European scientists recently noticed an increase in the risk of heat-induced heart attack that parallels rising temperatures due to global warming. A large Chinese study also found that high humidity levels have an adverse impact on the number of deaths from CVD.

How Heat Can Harm

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Halfpoint | Geetty Images

Sweating is the primary way our bodies maintain a healthy temperature under heatstress.

When blood is redirected to the skin to cool the body, it may compromise the heart's blood supply. Dehydration from fluid loss due to sweating causes the heart to pump faster and work harder and may increase the tendency for blood to clot. Add high humidity, which further interferes with the body's cooling mechanisms, and you could have a potentially dangerous situation for anyonewith heart disease.

Meds May Worsen Risk

To further complicate things, heart medications such as beta-blockers and diuretics can exaggerate the body's response to heat. This increases the tendency to suffer the adverse effects of heat.

"Consequently, people with heart disease, especially the elderly, are more prone to complications such as heat stroke and are at higher risk of heat-related heart attack, worsening heart failure and potentially death," adds Dr. Rocco.

Stay Cool, Stay Safe

Your heart must work harder when the temperature rises above 70 degrees and the humidity hits 70 percent. There are measures you can take to stay safe:

Limit outside activity or delay outdoor exercise until the temperature and humidity levels drop.

Move exercise indoors to an air-conditioned space or indoor pool.

Stay well hydrated, but avoid caffeine and alcohol, which contribute to dehydration.

Dress for the heat in lightweight, light-colored, breathable fabrics.

Wear a hat when you are outside.

Wear sunscreen: It will keep you cooler.

"Exercise and fresh air are good for you, but you need to use common sense when it starts getting hot and humid," says Dr. Rocco.

Know When You're in Danger

If your body overheats, you will exhibit the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion, which include:

- Rapid pulse

- Cool, moist skin

- Profuse sweating

- Dizziness or lightheadedness

- Excessive fatigue

- Nausea

- Headache

- Muscle cramps.

Stop what you are doing immediately, move into air conditioning and drink cold water. If you don't feel better in onehour, call 911.

Cooling off when you experience heat exhaustion can prevent it from becoming heat stroke, which can be fatal. If you experience any of the symptoms below, have someone call911 immediately:

- Hot, dry skin without sweating

- Loss of consciousness

- Disorientation

- Confusion

- Agitation

- Inability to drink

- High fever.

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