It’s Hot Out There! What Does It Mean for Your Heart Health?

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Whether you’ve lived in northeast Georgia all your life or only recently moved here, you’ve probably realized that it’s hot here in the summer. (OK, really, really hot here.) When the temperature heats up outside, what does that mean for your heart health?

Our area’s intense heat and even more intense humidity are a fact of life from about mid-May through late September and even October. When we think about how the heat affects us, we most often think about factors such as frizzy hair or sweaty clothes.

But in reality, the heat can also have an impact on our health and on our heart health in particular. Laura Divoky, MD, MPH, FACC, non-invasive cardiologist with The Heart Center of NGMC, shares key things to remember this summer – and how to protect your heart health:

Heat & the Heart

The first thing to know is that a small amount of time spent outside on a typically hot summer day won’t negatively impact your heart in most circumstances.

When your body is functioning normally, it has processes that help it cope with heat. That’s why you sweat so much, for one. When your body temperature heats up, you will begin to sweat as a way to cool it down.

This mechanism and other bodily processes can help the heart and the body cope with being in the heat. But in some circumstances, the heat can be dangerous to your heart health.

While a healthy person’s heart is able to adapt to the heat, those with certain health conditions may have difficulty coping. This occurs for several reasons:

  • A heart weakened by a previous heart attack may have difficulty pumping enough blood to rid the body of heat and regulate body temperature.
  • Arteries narrowed by high cholesterol may impede blood flow to the skin, trapping heat inside.
  • Certain medications taken for heart health conditions, including beta blockers and diuretics, may make it harder for the body to handle heat.
  • Medical conditions such as a stroke or diabetes can make it difficult to know when you’re thirsty, increasing the risk of dehydration.

Even in those who are healthy overall, intense heat or prolonged exposure to heat can have dangerous and even deadly effects.

It’s important to know the signs of heat-related illness and seek medical attention promptly. Signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating with clammy skin, fatigue, nausea and fainting. Heat stroke, which is considered an emergency, causes even more intense symptoms, including a high fever, decreased sweating, hot skin, a pounding pulse, dizziness, nausea or vomiting and confusion.

How to Protect Your Heart Health in the Heat

While we can’t change the weather, we can change how we prepare ourselves – and our hearts – for the hot temperatures. Take steps to keep your heart safe:

  • Limit time outside between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. This time period is when the sun’s rays are most intense, often referred to as “the heat of the day.” Try to do outdoor activities in the early morning or late afternoon and evening.
  • Drink up. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to take a drink; by then, you’re already on your way to being dehydrated. Sip water continuously throughout the day, and eat fruits and vegetables (such as melons and peaches) that are packed with water. If you have heart failure, talk with your physician about how much fluid is safe to drink.
  • Rest when you can. While it may make you feel a little lazy, it’s natural—and healthy—to take things a little easier during the summer and early fall when the temps are excessively high and it’s humid.
  • Choose light, flowy clothing. Tighter clothes can keep sweat from evaporating on your skin, which can keep your body temperature elevated.
  • Stay cool. If you start feeling hot, seek the cold. Sit in the shade if you’re outdoors, or even better, opt for an air-conditioned space or one with a fan to circulate air. You can also take a cool shower or bath if you feel very overheated.

Most importantly, listen to your body! Your heart will thank you.

Heart Care to Love

At The Heart Center of NGMC, there’s so much to love about the exceptional care our dedicated team of more than 80 cardiologists and advanced practice providers offer. In addition to providing personalized care, our team of experts works to ensure happier, healthier tomorrows. This goes beyond our comprehensive spectrum of services and leading approach to care to ensure you have the tools and resources you need to lead a healthy life every day.