A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Summer heat can be hard on your heart, here are some ways to stay healthy as temperatures rise

By Dr. Vincent Sorrell
University of Kentucky

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start to summer. From outdoor barbeques to lounging by the pool, summertime means more time spent outdoors with friends and family. But with fun in the sun comes with risks.

Humans regulate heat through blood flow. A healthy heart dissipates heat by pushing blood toward the skin. We also shed heat through sweat. People with pre-existing heart conditions are especially at risk, as heat can put extra stress on the heart. According to the CDC, more than 600 people die every year from preventable, heat-related illnesses. More than 65,000 are treated in the emergency room for heat stroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration.

(Photo from University of Kentucky)

It’s important to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke and what to do is someone is in danger. With heat exhaustion, look for signs such as heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, fatigue and dizziness or fainting. It can be treated by moving the person indoors and cooling them off with a cool cloth. If they don’t improve in an hour, seek medical help.

Heat stroke is more severe. Symptoms include high body temperature — above 103º F, skin that’s red and hot but not sweaty, rapid pulse, throbbing headache, as well as dizziness and confusion. Heat stroke is a medical emergency – call 911 right away if you see someone in distress.

Dehydration can begin within just a few hours of the onset of extreme heat. Signs of dehydration include fatigue, headache, muscle cramps, dizziness and dry mouth. Dehydration causes the heart to pump harder, which can put heart patients at further risk. Elderly patients in particular need to drink up, as they may not feel thirsty until they are dehydrated, and some patients, not even then.

Here are some ways you can stay safe in the sun:

Drink lots of water. Hydration helps the heart pump more easily and helps the muscles work more efficiently work. The more you sweat, the more you need to replenish fluids. Skip the alcohol, coffee and tea as it can further dehydrate you. It’s important to keep drinking, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

Keep your cool. In excessive temperature, stay indoors. If you must be outside, find a shady spot and use a fan or a damp towel to stay cool. At the peak if heat in the early afternoon, avoid being outside for prolonged periods of time. Wear loose, light-colored clothing as well as a hat.

Monitor medications. Due to the extra strain of heat, heart patients need to be diligent in keeping up their prescription regime.

Be smart when it comes to exercise. Exercise is important for long-term heart health. If you don’t have the option to take your work out indoors, stick to the early hours of the day. Take it easy – avoid excessive or intense effort in extreme heat.

Dr. Vincent Sorrell, M.D., is chief of cardiology at University of Kentucky HealthCare’s Gill Heart and Vascular Institute.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment