Summer is a great time for activities such as picnics, gardening, hiking and water sports. But the high temperatures associated with the summer months can often put additional stress on your heart.

If you have heart disease or risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and/or diabetes, you may be at increased risk for heat stress and heat-related injuries.

Why You’re At Increased Risk

Healthy individuals can typically adapt to elevations in temperature, such as those that we experience in July and August. However, many clinical reports demonstrate that this tolerance to heat stress is often impaired in patients with cardiovascular disease and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. There are several reasons for this, including:

• Very high heat can lead to enlarged blood vessels, a lower blood pressure, and a higher heart rate. This increases the overall workload of the heart, placing stress on the cardiovascular system.

• Normal physiological responses to increased temperatures, such as increasing blood flow to the skin to allow for heat dissipation, are often diminished in people with heart disease and associated heart failure. This places them at greater risk for heat intolerance, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

In addition to the physical limitations of heart disease itself, there are many medications prescribed for the treatment of cardiovascular conditions that can compound the adverse effects of extreme heat on the body.

• ACE-Inhibitors (lisinopril, benazepril, ramipril, enalapril, etc.)

• Beta blockers (metoprolol, atenolol, bisoprolol, propranolol, etc.)

• Calcium channel blockers (amlodipine, felodipine, diltiazem, verapamil, etc.)

• Diuretics (furosemide, hydrochlorothiazide, chlorthalidone, spironolactone, etc.)

These commonly used medications are very important in the treatment of cardiovascular disease but can exaggerate the body’s response to heat.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

It’s always important to listen and pay attention to your body and how you’re feeling. This is especially true if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and/or diabetes. If you’re out in the heat this summer, here are some signs and symptoms that you should watch for:

Heat exhaustion

• Dizziness/lightheadedness

• Headache

• Nausea and/or vomiting

• Weakness

• Cool, moist skin

• Dark urine

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should immediately stop what you’re doing and move somewhere that is cooler. Use wet cloths, cool compresses, fans, etc. to help cool down and notify your medical provider.

Heat stroke

• Fever

• Confusion

• Unusual or irrational behavior

• Rapid, weak pulse

• Rapid breathing

• Dry, hot skin

• And possibly seizure and/or unconsciousness

It’s important to realize that heat stroke is a medical emergency and that if you or someone you know begins to exhibit these symptoms, you should call 911 or otherwise seek immediate medical attention.

Prevention and Protection

Having heart disease or risk factors for heart disease doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy everything that summer has to offer. There are several things that you can do protect yourself if you’re going to be outside.

• Stay well hydrated. Thirst can be the first sign of dehydration. Water is always the best choice. Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, which have diuretic effects and can lead to dehydration.

• Wear the right clothing. Lightweight, light-colored clothing in breathable fabrics can help keep you cool on hot, sunny days. Add a hat and sunglasses for added protection.

• Rest frequently. It’s important to listen to your body and rest in a cool, shady area when needed.

In addition to the above, there are several things that you can do to lower your risk of heart-related events all year round.

This includes:

• Eating a healthy diet that has plenty of fruits, vegetables, and other high-fiber food; lean protein like chicken, fish, and turkey; “good” fats like olive oil, nuts, and seeds; and limit sugar and salt.

• Stop smoking!

• Take your medications as prescribed.

• Get plenty of physical activity. During the summer, make sure to utilize the tips above or exercise indoors if needed.

As always, make sure to see your primary health care provider if you have any questions or if you develop any new or worrisome symptoms. Stay healthy, Kingsport!

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Healthy Kingsport is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a community that actively embraces healthy living by promoting wellness, enhancing infrastructure and influencing policy. Aiesha Banks is the executive director of Healthy Kingsport. She can be reached at [email protected]. For programs and events, contact Desteny Clemons at [email protected]. This article was written by Aimee Light, director of Cardiovascular Services at Holston Valley Medical Center.