Open Accessibility Menu

Heat and heart health: A look at how one affects the other

Heat and heart health: A look at how one affects the other

When the temperature soars into the upper 90s sometime this summer, it may have you hiding out in air-conditioned spaces. There’s more than discomfort involved, though. There’s also a connection between heat and heart health.

Most of us are familiar with the way extreme temperatures affect the body. Your heart is also impacted. Learn how heat affects the heart and what you can do to protect your heart health as the West Jefferson Medical Center team sheds some light on the topic below.

What heat does to the heart

As the temperature rises, your body works to keep its temperature regulated. To cool the body, you begin to sweat, which depletes the body of fluids and essential electrolytes needed by your organs, including the heart.

On a typical Louisiana summer day, when both the temperature and humidity are high, sweating can be an ineffective way of cooling the body. With so much moisture in the air, sweat simply stays on your skin rather than evaporating. Your body temperature stays higher than normal as a result.

This affects your heart in several ways. For one, it beats faster when it’s hotter. For every degree your body temperature rises, your heart rate increases by approximately 10 beats per minute.

That adjustment causes your heart to work harder. Other aspects of heart health are affected as your body tries to cool down. Blood vessels dilate to allow for more blood flow, and your blood pressure increases. The heat and humidity are also associated with increasing urine output, which can flush even more electrolytes out of your system.

All of these things combine together to increase the risk of serious heart conditions, such as heart attack, arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) and heart failure.

How to stay cool and protect your heart

A hot day is particularly dangerous for people with heart disease, who often take medications to treat their condition. Certain medications, including diuretics and other blood pressure-lowering drugs such as beta blockers, can make it more difficult for the body to cool itself down, as can following a low-sodium diet.

Because of that, people who have heart conditions are at an increased risk of developing a heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. To protect yourself, limit time spent outdoors when the temperature is higher than 70ºF and the humidity level is higher than 70% and stay indoors on intensely hot days, too.

If you have some type of heart disease, watch for signs that your body is under strain from the heat. Symptoms may include a headache, dizziness, muscle cramps, and hot or red skin. It’s also a good idea to check your blood pressure more often if unusually hot weather lasts more than a few days, keeping an eye out for any fluctuations. Talk with your cardiologist if you feel like the heat is affecting your health.

To keep your heart healthy, take precautions to protect yourself during the heat of summer. Stay heat-safe with these tips:

  • Choose your outdoor time wisely, minimizing time outdoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most intense.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
  • Seek shade whenever possible, going into an air-conditioned space when it’s particularly hot.
  • Watch for signs of heat-related illness and know what to do if you experience them.
  • Wear lightweight, loose clothing to help keep your body cool.

Even if you don’t have a heart condition, certain medications can increase your risk of dehydration and heat-related illness. Talk with your primary care provider or a pharmacist about the medications you’re taking and whether you’re at risk.

When your heart’s health is in the balance, you want the best. Have peace of mind knowing the West Jefferson Medical Center Cardiology Center offers exceptional heart care services, close to home.