Heat Waves Can be Hazardous to Your Heart

With many areas of the country facing triple-digit temperatures and summer heat and humidity elsewhere, the American Heart Association (AHA) is urging people to take extra steps to protect their hearts. This is especially important for older adults and people with high blood pressure, obesity or a history of heart disease and stroke.

Temperatures over 100 or even temperatures in the 80s with high humidity can be hard on the heart. Recent research published by the AHA found that when temperatures reach extremes of an average daily temperature of 109 degrees Fahrenheit, the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease may double or triple. Another study suggests that the more temperatures change during the summer, the more severe strokes may become.

How does heat stress the heart?

In hot weather, the body tries to cool itself by shifting blood from major organs to underneath the skin. This shift causes the heart to pump more blood, putting it under significantly more stress.

“If you’re a heart patient, older than 50 or overweight, the AHA suggests you take special precautions in the heat to protect your heart,” said Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, the AHA’s volunteer president. “Some heart medications like angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and diuretics … can exaggerate the body’s response to heat and cause you to feel ill in extreme heat.

“But,” cautions Dr. Lloyd-Jones, “don’t stop taking your prescriptions. Learn how to keep cool and talk to your doctor about any concerns.”

Precautions for everyone

Even if you aren’t taking medications for a heart condition, it is important to take precautions in the heat. Extreme temperatures can cause health issues for anyone.

“Staying hydrated is key. It is easy to get dehydrated even if you don’t think you’re thirsty,” Dr. Lloyd-Jones said. “Drink water before, during and after going outside in hot weather. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty. And the best way to know if you are getting enough fluid is to monitor your urine output and make sure the urine color is pale, not dark or concentrated.” 

Dehydration causes the heart to work harder, putting it at risk. Hydration helps the heart more easily pump blood through the blood vessels to the muscles. And it helps the muscles work efficiently.

The American Heart Association suggests that everyone follows these five hot weather precautions to protect your heart:

  • 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.

This advice is not intended to replace the guidance you receive from your doctor. Follow your doctor’s advice and take all prescriptions as directed.

Source: American Heart Association

Categories: Senior Health