Tips for Staying Heart-Healthy in the Summer Heat

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The heat and humidity that sweeps across the southern states this time of year brings with it many concerns.  You need to stay cool and hydrated, and the blazing sun should have you reaching for the sun block more frequently than usual.  We should all be mindful and exercise sun and heat safety during these summer months, but it is particularly important for those who suffer from any type of cardiovascular health concern.

Why is Heat Dangerous for the Heart?

As the temperature of the air around us becomes hotter than our body temperature, the heart begins to pump harder and faster in an effort to keep the body cool.  On days when this happens, it may circulate up to four times more blood than it does on a typical day.  For those who already have an existing heart condition, the added stress on their cardiovascular system can be exceptionally dangerous, and the already weakened heart may be incapable of providing adequate circulation for cooling.

Likewise, many of the most commonly prescribed medications for heart patients can exacerbate the body’s response to heat.  These may include beta blockers, ace inhibitors, and diuretics which can deplete the body of sodium and contribute to dehydration.  Similarly, other, more common medications such as antihistamine or antidepressant can also impact heat response by inhibiting sweating.

Combat Heat and Keep Your Heart Healthy

Knowing that a heart condition or your medication increases your risk for an adverse reaction to extreme temperatures doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to enjoy your favorite summer activities.  In most cases, it simply means that you should be aware of the dangers and take necessary precautions.  Here is what you can do to help ensure your heart health and safety this summer:

  • Stay hydrated – It can be difficult to remain properly hydrated when you have factors such as high temperatures, health conditions, and medications involved. Ask your cardiologist for water intake recommendations based on your condition.  In many cases, one glass per hour is ideal, but this is not always the case, particularly for those with congestive heart failure.  Additionally, you should take care to avoid caffeine and alcohol which can worsen dehydration.
  • Dress to keep cool – If you know you’ll be outside in hot weather conditions, keep it in mind when getting dressed. Plan on something that is light both in weight and color and breathable, and use a hat or umbrella to shield yourself from the sun.
  • Keep it indoors mid-day – When possible, keep all outdoor activities to the morning and evening hours. The sun is at its strongest and temperatures at their highest during the mid-day hours of 10AM to 4PM.  When it comes to combatting heat, there is no better method than staying inside with cold air conditioning.

Know the Warning Signs of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

If you begin to feel ill and “flu-like” while out in the heat, quickly take action by getting into an air conditioned space and drinking cool water.  When heat exhaustion or heat stroke sets in, the symptoms can include fatigue, disorientation, headache, and nausea or vomiting.  If you find that you are unable to ease these symptoms, go to the nearest emergency room for immediate care.

Summer heat safety should always be a priority, but it is exceptionally important for those who may already have a compromised cardiovascular system.  Use the tips above to stay safe, and if you have any concerns at all regarding your heart health, contact Cardiovascular Institute of the South and request an appointment with a skilled cardiologist at any one of our many locations.

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CIS Staff

Written by CIS Staff