CINCINNATI—The scorching summer heat and the discomfort that comes with it affects everyone, but for people with heart conditions, it could be a matter of life and death.
Experts at the University of Cincinnati urge people with cardiovascular disease to take extra precautions during the summer months to avoid major health problems.
“It doesn’t take a lot of exertion for those with heart conditions to become ill during hot weather spells,” says Neal Weintraub, MD, director of the cardiovascular diseases division at UC. “Strenuous activities in this weather can cause heat exhaustion or heat stroke in healthy individuals. Those who have heart problems have a two-fold chance of being affected by heat and can even die from extreme heat stress.”
Our bodies typically maintain a temperature of about 98.6 degrees, and the body instantly tries to cool itself down by sweating and dilating blood vessels if its temperature even rises slightly.
The evaporating sweat cools the body, and as a result of the larger blood vessel size, the heart beats faster and blood pressure decreases.
Weintraub says that increased heart rate and lower blood pressure can cause problems for those with heart disease.
“It can be very stressful on the cardiovascular system,” he says. “People with weaker hearts may not be able to pump blood efficiently enough to keep the body cool and the blood pressure at a high enough level. As a result, body temperatures may rise to dangerous levels.”
He adds that some medications taken by heart patients could also cause problems in extreme heat.
“Beta-blockers, which are commonly prescribed to people with heart conditions, can prevent the heart from beating as rapidly as it needs to during hot weather, thereby limiting the body's ability to cool down,” Weintraub says.
In order to stay healthy in hot weather, people with heart disease should:
- Stay inside during the hottest part of the day
- Try to stay in an air conditioned environment
- Limit strenuous outdoor activities
- Wear loose-fitting, light clothing
- Stay hydrated and avoid caffeine and alcohol
- Carry a cell phone and call for help immediately if stranded in the heat
Weintraub says it is a good idea to check on friends, coworkers and loved ones regularly if the heart condition is really serious.
"Taking the proper precautions can significantly reduce chances of suffering from heat-related illness," he adds. “It’s important to know your risks and to pay attention to your body’s warning signs while still enjoying your summer.”