Heart problems and heat: what you need to know and do
This spring, many parts of the United States experienced historic heat waves. Now summer is officially underway and experts are predicting warmer than normal temperatures across most of the country.
Extreme temperatures increase health risks for people with chronic diseases, including heart problems. If you have heart disease, here’s how to stay cool and protect yourself when temperatures rise.
How does hot weather affect the heart?
Not only does exposure to high heat increase the risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, but it can also take a particular toll on heart health. It stresses the cardiovascular system and makes the heart work harder. This can increase the risk of heart attack, cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), and heart failure.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the interaction between high heat and cardiovascular diseases contributes to about a quarter of heat-related deaths.
And the higher the temperature, the greater the threat. A recent study in the journal Traffic look at seven-year cardiovascular mortality rate in Kuwait, where daytime temperatures can reach triple digits during the warmer months. Researchers have found a link between rising temperatures and the risk of cardiovascular death, with most occurring between temperatures of 95°F to 109°F.
“Climate change is giving us more, and unprecedented, heat that can be deadly, especially for people with heart disease,” says Dr. Aaron Bernstein, acting director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment. from Harvard TH Chan School. of Public Health.
How does the body evacuate heat?
Your body is designed to release extra heat in two main ways, each of which can affect the heart:
Radiation. When the air around you is cooler than your body, you radiate extra heat into the air. This process requires redirecting blood flow so that more of it goes to the skin.
Evaporation. The evaporation of sweat helps you cool down by drawing heat away from your skin. When the air is dry, it works well. But when it’s hot and humid, sweat stays on your skin as your body temperature rises.
When the air temperature approaches or exceeds body temperature, especially when the humidity is high, your heart has to beat faster and pump harder to help your body release heat. On a hot, humid day, your heart can pump two to four times more blood every minute compared to a cool day.
Certain medications intended to help the heart can make problems worse on hot days. For example, beta-blockers slow the heart rate and interfere with the heart’s ability to circulate blood fast enough for efficient heat exchange. Diuretics (diuretics) increase urine production and increase the risk of dehydration.
How can you protect yourself and your heart when temperatures rise?
Although exposure to high heat and heat waves affects everyone, having existing heart conditions increases the risk of heat-related illness and hospitalization. It is therefore particularly important to try to follow basic strategies to stay coolincluding these:
- Monitor the weather forecast for heat advisories and stay indoors on those days. If it’s too hot where you live, check with your city’s health department for cooling centers and other options to help keep you cool. If you do venture outside, evenings and early mornings are often the coolest times. Rest in the shade as much as possible.
- Outdoors, try to drink 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes. Set a timer to remind you. “Never wait until you’re thirsty to drink,” says Dr. Bernstein. If you have heart failure, ask your doctor how much fluid you should drink daily, as fluids can build up and cause swelling. If you take diuretics, ask him how much you should drink in hot weather.
- Avoid sodas or fruit juices and limit alcohol. Sodas and fruit juices can slow the passage of water from the digestive system to the bloodstream. Although research is limited, some studies have shown that excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of heatstroke in hot weather.
protect your skin. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself and increases dehydration. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, wrap-around sunglasses, and loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Also, apply plenty of broad-spectrum sunscreen or UVA/UVB protection with an SPF of 30 or higher to all exposed skin 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every hour.