Your favorite summertime playlist probably has more songs about surfing than about potential health risks. But with much of the nation having already sweated out in the summer heat, health experts would like to add a note of caution to the mix.
Hot weather is like a stress test for your heart, says Dr. Lance Becker, chair of emergency medicine at Northwell Health, a health care provider in New York. And some people respond poorly to such stress. “They could have a heart attack. Their congestive heart failure symptoms could get much worse. Or they could have an arrhythmia,” the medical term for an irregular heartbeat.
The risk to your heart and brain can be serious.
A 2020 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited research showing that hospital admissions for cardiovascular problems jumped in the days after temperatures spiked. And a 2017 review of research in the American Heart Association journal Stroke concluded that hot temperatures seem to increase the immediate risk of having a clot-caused ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke.
Heat regulation in humans is all about blood flow. A healthy body sheds heat by pushing blood to the skin. We also sweat, and as sweat evaporates, it carries more heat away.
It’s usually a “pretty darn good mechanism,” Becker shares. But excessive heat can overwhelm it. And then things can become “very, very dangerous.”
Dr. Rachel M. Bond, director of women’s heart health at Dignity Health in Arizona, says anyone with a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke or obesity is at higher risk for heat-related problems. Similarly, the CDC warns that people with diabetes may have damage to blood vessels and nerves that can affect their ability to cool off.
What can you do to stay safe?
Know these symptoms.
Signs of heat exhaustion include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea and cool, moist skin. It can be treated by moving out of the heat or using a damp cloth to cool off. If symptoms don’t improve within an hour, seek medical attention.
Heat stroke is more severe. Symptoms include a rapid, strong pulse; body temperature above 103 F; and red, hot, dry skin. “That is actually a medical emergency,” Bond says, and people should call 911.
Drink lots of water.
Hydration helps the heart pump more easily and helps the muscles work more efficiently, Bond says. The exact amount of fluids you need can vary. Bond typically encourages her patients to drink at least