Human heart anatomy
Human heart anatomy iStock

For those with a heart condition as well as any other underlying health problem, hot weather is not normally associated with a risk. We associate a warm climate with convalescence, right? We often hear about people with certain health problems moving to warmer climes in order to keep them in check. It is the cold and the rain that we most often associate with ill-health. It isn’t the summer, after all, that is considered the sickness season.

But of course, hot weather comes with its own host of health challenges, especially when you are living somewhere warm and going about your daily toil in such conditions. And for those with a heart condition – whether they know about it or not – hot weather can be downright dangerous, though it doesn’t have to be.

How Does Hot Weather Affect the Heart?

Most essentially, hot weather makes your body work harder. Your body is constantly working to keep your core temperature at a healthy level, and the heart plays a crucial role in this. To keep your core temperature at normal levels, the heart must work harder, and so too do your lungs and kidneys. This means that hot weather can be a risk for those with a heart condition. When the temperature outside your body is increased, your heart has to work harder to cool you down. And this effect only becomes more pronounced if you are also physically exerting yourself under such conditions – and more pronounced still if you are overweight or obese (as is the case with many suffering from heart conditions).

For many from colder parts of the world who are visiting warmer climes (and here Israel is a very good example), this can be something to look out for. Depending on what type of vacation you are planning, you could find yourself physically exerting yourself sightseeing and exploring. This can in turn put a strain on the heart, especially when you are not used to the hot weather. Generally speaking, periodic rest and relaxation can be the best way to combat this. But while this is something that is easy enough to do on a vacation in a warm place, it can be less of an option if you are working through a spell of hot weather.

Accordingly, places of work in hot conditions should always be on the lookout for these potential problems and do what they can to combat them. For example, having nearby defibrillators in a workplace can make all the difference if – heaven forbid – anyone should take a cardiac arrest on account of physical exertion in hot conditions when working. Thankfully, defibrillators are widespread, easy to use, and there are always defibrillators for sale almost anywhere.

How to Keep Cool

It is a given that nobody can control the weather, but you can control how you behave when the sun begins to shine a little brighter. In the interests of creating a preventative – rather than reactive – response to the dangers of heart conditions, there is a simple principle to keep in mind – try to stay cool!

It really is as simple as that. The best way to combat the effects of hot weather is simply to keep yourself cool. Yet while it may be incredibly simple to do so, the trick is do it continually, and not just when you begin to feel the effects of overheating.

Keep Hydrated

Obviously, this is the most important way to deal with the effects of hot weather on the heart – and it is also one of the simplest. The trick is to remember to rehydrate regularly throughout the day. Paying attention to the color of your urine is one of the most effective ways to check how hydrated you are. You should aim for a pale straw color. Anything darker suggests dehydration.

Water is obviously the optimal way to hydrate, but milk, sports drinks, juice, and even tea and coffee all count as well. However, tea and coffee can lead to dehydration if not drunk in moderation, so it is best to restrict caffeine intake to a degree.

A final point worth mentioning where hydration is concerned is that many people with a heart condition also suffer from fluid restriction. This means that they simply cannot drink fluids to their heart’s content (no pun intended). To find out how to cope with hot weather when you suffer from fluid retention, you might want to check out this guide.

Avoid Alcohol

Avoiding alcohol is fairly well-known advice already. Alcohol is a diuretic (it promotes water loss through urine). So while many people with a heart condition can enjoy a few beers, it’s a good idea to pay attention to your level of hydration and be sure to rehydrate with other liquids (while not drinking too much alcohol, if possible). This is good advice at any time, but in hot weather it becomes even more important.

Keep the Indoors Cool

Perhaps those with a heart condition are at greater risk when they are physically exerting themselves in the heat of the sun. Yet, while that may be true, the indoors can pose challenges as well. Keeping a home or place of work cool doesn’t have to be complicated, but it can make all the difference. Some simple tricks you can employee include covering windows exposed to direct sunlight, making use of shutters, making use of air fans, and turning off any electric equipment that you don’t need.

What to Do if You Feel Ill in the Heat

The first thing to do if you feel ill in the heat is to recognize that the heat is responsible. Heart related symptoms often brought on by over-exertion in hot weather include dizziness, headache, shortness of breath, and loss of appetite. If any of these kick in, you should take immediate action.

The good news is that, most of the time, you can easily improve the situation with some simple ways to feel better. The first thing to do is to try to move to a cool place and immediately cease all physical exertion. Normally this means finding a place to sit or lie down. Finding somewhere to lie down and raise your feet slightly can help a lot. The next thing to do is – naturally enough – drink plenty of water. If you have access to water, you can also apply it to your skin with a cloth or a spray in order to release heat from your body and cool yourself down. Very often, applying these techniques can make you feel better in less than half an hour – and they can also prevent a medical emergency where your heart is concerned.

Whether it is angina, the potential for cardiac arrest, or a susceptibility to other forms of heart failure or heat stroke, those with an underlying heart condition should always take care in hot weather. Generally speaking, your body will have ways of alerting you to any impending danger so pay attention and start taking measures the moment you suspect something may be wrong.

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