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When the Weather Heats Up, Heart Patients Need to Stay Cool

Summer means more time to do the activities you love—like going to the beach, taking early morning walks or working in the garden. But, it’s important that you protect yourself against heat-related illness, especially if you have heart disease.

That’s because heart disease places you at a higher risk for heat stroke, a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature.

“Anyone can suffer heat stroke, but people with cardiovascular disease are at a much greater risk,” said Lourdes cardiologist Ram Wadehra, DO, FACC. “Your heart may not be pumping effectively, making it difficult for the body to maintain temperature control.”

When outdoor temperatures rise, the heart has to beat faster and work harder to cool the body. Sweating whisks away heat, but it can also remove sodium, potassium and other minerals.

“You need sodium and potassium for your muscles to contract and relax, transmit nerve impulses throughout the body and maintain fluid balance in your cells,” said Dr. Wadehra. “If you don’t drink and become dehydrated, your blood pressure may drop and you can become dizzy and fall.”

Many people with heart disease take medication. But some of these drugs can interfere with heat regulation.

“Medications used to treat heart conditions may make it harder for your body to cool itself by perspiring,” said Dr. Wadehra. “Beta blockers, for example, slow the heartbeat and limit the heart’s ability to circulate blood fast enough for effective cooling. Diuretics (water pills) increase urine output, increasing the risk of dehydration.”

Don’t stop taking your medications just because you’re going to be out on a hot day, advised Dr. Wadehra. Instead, take precautions.

Heat stroke is an emergency. Those suffering symptoms need to move to a cool place and get medical help right away.

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • A body temperature above 104 degrees
  • Red, hot, dry skin without sweating
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • A throbbing headache
  • Dizziness, nausea or confusion
  • Unconsciousness

To protect your heart and guard against heat stroke:

  • Stay inside when it’s hot. Avoid the early afternoon, when the sun is usually at its strongest.
  • Avoid vigorous physical activity in the high heat. No task or exercise program is worth risking your life. Exercise inside in a cool environment instead.
  • Dress for the heat. Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, including well-ventilated footwear.
  • Drink plenty of water each day. Avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol or lots of sugar. If you doctor limits your liquids, ask how much you should drink when it’s hot.
  • Eat light. Stick with smaller meals that don’t overload your stomach.
  • Wear sunblock and a hat.
  • Take regular breaks. Find some shade or a cool place to rest and hydrate.
  • Know your meds. Ask your doctor if your medications make you more vulnerable to heat-related illness.
  • Take a cool shower or bath.
  • Use your air-conditioner or go to air-conditioned places, such as malls, the movies or a friend’s house. If you don’t have air-conditioning at home, open your windows at night. Cross-ventilate by opening windows on two opposite sides of the building.

“If you experience any symptoms of heat-related illness or chest pain, get to a cool place and call 911,” said Dr. Wadehra.

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