Summer heat can be hard on the heart, here are some ways to stay healthy as temperatures rise.

By Dr. Vincent Sorrell
University of Kentucky

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer. From outdoor barbecues to relaxing by the pool, summer means more time outdoors with friends and family. But with fun in the sun comes with risks.

Humans regulate heat through blood flow. A healthy heart dissipates heat by pushing blood to the skin. We also eliminate heat through sweat. People with pre-existing heart conditions are especially at risk, as heat can overwhelm the heart. According to the CDC, more than 600 people die each year from preventable heat-related illnesses. More than 65,000 are treated in the emergency room for heat stroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration.

(Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky)

It’s important to recognize the signs of exhaustion and heatstroke and what to do if one is in distress. With heat exhaustion, look for signs such as heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, fatigue, and dizziness or fainting. It can be treated by moving the person indoors and cooling them with a cool cloth. If they don’t improve within an hour, seek medical help.

Heatstroke is more serious. Symptoms include high body temperature – over 103º F, skin that is red and warm but not sweaty, a rapid pulse, a throbbing headache, as well as dizziness and confusion. Heatstroke is a medical emergency – call 911 immediately if you see someone in distress.

Dehydration can start just a few hours after the onset of extreme heat. Signs of dehydration include fatigue, headache, muscle cramps, dizziness and dry mouth. Dehydration causes the heart to beat harder, which can put heart patients at greater risk. Elderly patients, in particular, need to drink, as they may not feel thirsty until they are dehydrated, and some patients even then.

Here are some ways to protect yourself from the sun:

drink a lot of water. Hydration helps your heart pump more easily and helps your muscles work more efficiently. The more you sweat, the more you need to replace fluids. Skip the alcohol, coffee and tea as it can further dehydrate you. It’s important to keep drinking, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

keep well. In excessive temperature, stay indoors. If you must be outside, find a shady spot and use a fan or a damp towel to keep cool. In peak heat in the early afternoon, avoid being outdoors for extended periods. Wear loose, light-colored clothing and a hat.

monitor medications. Due to the extra heat strain, heart patients need to be diligent about sticking to their prescription regimen.

Be smart when it comes to exercise. Exercise is important for long-term heart health. If you don’t have the option of exercising indoors, stick to the early hours of the day. Take it easy – avoid excessive or intense exertion in extreme heat.

doctor Vincent Sorrell, MD, is chief of cardiology at the Gill Heart and Vascular Institute at the University of Kentucky HealthCare.

Summer heat can be hard on the heart, here are some ways to stay healthy as temperatures rise.

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