Does the Heat and Humidity Affect your Heart?

This post was written by Karen Halm, RN, MEd, Manager of Cardiac Rehabilitation at Abington – Jefferson Health.

Summer has arrived and brings longer days, more reasons to have a picnic, vacation and of course, those hot and humid days with the inevitable heat wave.  As the temperatures rise, there are a few things all of us should remember during these “dog days of summer” so we don’t overheat.  Most people can tolerate the extreme weather changes without difficulty though perhaps becoming slightly uncomfortable, but if you have a heart condition or have had a heart event, there are a few things you should consider so you do not overwork your heart.

The sweltering heat of summer encourages a “dress code.”  Wear lightweight cotton, loose-fitting, light-colored clothes during the hot and humid days to help air circulate and allow your body to “breathe.”  Clothes made with synthetic fabrics will help keep you cool as they wick the moisture from your body.  A cap or hat is the perfect covering to protect your head from the rays of the sun, and don’t forget the sunglasses and sunscreen!

The early morning hours are the best time to exercise and work on your outdoor “to do” list. The hottest time of the day is between noon and 4pm.  The sun is at its highest in the sky at noon (when a sunburn will occur in the shortest period of time), but the earth continues to receive more heat making the temperature climb into the afternoon hours.  So, head out in the morning and take that walk or run, mow the lawn, or any other strenuous activities to prevent any heat-related events.   If you are not an early-bird, then take your walk at the mall!  It is a climate-controlled area with benches handy for a rest if needed.

The hot and humid days make replenishing your bodies’ fluids a must, so drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration or heat exhaustion from occurring.  If your physician has placed you on a fluid restriction, continue with your physicians’ instructions and keep in a cool environment.  When you are thirsty, it is a signal from your body telling you to drink.  During the hot summer months, water is your best beverage of choice.  Of course you can have your morning coffee or tea, but limit those and head straight to water to keep hydrated.  Caffeinated beverages, alcohol, and sugary drinks can actually increase dehydration, so choose your beverages carefully.

Keeping cool is important on the hottest summer days, and it is best to be in an air-conditioned area.  If you do not have air-conditioning, then go to a relative or friend’s house, mall, library, or other place where you will be able to stay cool.  Even if you are only in an air-conditioned area for several hours, your body will stay cool when you return to the heat.  Fans are helpful, but when the temperature reaches into the upper 90’s, they will not prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke.  A cool shower or bath, or a cold wet washcloth placed under your arms is also helpful.

The warning signs of a heat stroke include hot, red, dry, or damp skin;  fast, strong pulse;  headache;  dizziness;  nausea;  confusion;  or losing consciousness.

The warning signs of heat exhaustion are heavy sweating; cold, pale, and clammy skin; fast, weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; muscle cramps; dizziness; headache; or fainting.

If you believe you or someone you know is having a heat-related issue, get to an air-conditioned space and provide cool water.  If this does not help, call your physician or go to the emergency room.

These simple summer heart-smart tips will help you safely enjoy this season of sun and fun!  Now, everybody into the pool!

Bonus Tip:

Remember to check on neighbors during the hottest days of summer, especially seniors.  If there is a Heat Hotline in your area, be sure they have the number so there is a resource for them to call.  Seniors are at a higher risk of heat-related issues and may need assistance when dealing with the heat, so arrange with family or neighbors to check on them regularly.  Infants and children are also a special population.  Dress them in cool, loose clothing and be sure they are in the shade and wearing a hat or are under an umbrella.  Sunscreen is essential, and limit their sun exposure during mid-day hours.  It is also important to remember to keep an eye on your pets during the extreme heat.  Never leave them in a car and be sure they have fresh water available.  Walk your dog on the grass or dirt to avoid burning their paws on the hot pavement.  Press the back of your hand or bare foot firmly on the pavement for seven seconds.  If it is too hot for you, it is too hot for your pet.  When the air temperature is 87⁰, the asphalt temperature is an alarming 143⁰!!

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