Heat Exhaustion and Heart Disease

The heat is on!!! Many welcome the heat, however people with  a history of heart problems have to be cautious. When the heat and humidity rise so does the incidents of heart problems. If the heart muscle has limited blood flow to its heart walls, when the heat gets up there the heart’s blood flow can become compromised. As the blood goes to the skin to cool the body, it may limit the amount it can provide its own muscle.  Most importantly high humidity appears to increase the incidence of acute myocardial infarction (AMI) or heart attack leading to death among the elderly.

The American Heart Association warns people about the effects of hot weather on their health. Extreme heat can cause dehydration, heat exhaustion and stroke. Add in high humidity and you can find a very dangerous situation. Warn seniors to limit outside activity when the temperature is above 70 degrees with humidity above 70%. With these conditions, the body’s natural cooling mechanisms are affected.

During hot summer months, outdoor activity such as exercise walking and gardening should be limited to cooler times of day in the early morning or in the evening. Seniors should also be encouraged to increase their water intake to compensate for fluid lost in hot weather. The American Heart Association suggests monitoring your weight by weighing your self in the morning after using the restroom. If your weight is down by two pounds or more you should increase the amount of water you drink. Avoid fluids with caffeine as they can increase fluid loss. Even if you are dieting and weight loss is expected you still need to drink plenty of water to stay healthy.

Remember, dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion which can lead to heat stroke. Heat stroke can kill, especially if you are an older adult with a health condition.

The symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • excessive heavy sweating
  • cold clammy skin
  • feeling dizzy or fainting
  • rapid weak pulse
  • muscle cramping
  • rapid shallow breathing
  • vomiting, nausea or both

I can’t emphasize enough the importance weighing one’s self daily and being aware of the bodies symptoms. Many  predisposed to congestive heart failure do not tolerate the heat and humidity. By weighing yourself daily you can identify if there is a sudden spike in the weight. If you are holding fluid this is not the time to be physically active. If your weight is up 3-5 lbs do not exercise. Do not get into the habit of thinking that you should simply exercise more to take off the excess weight. Get into the habit of asking yourself does the weight mean I am holding fluid?

Suspect fluid:

  •    if your blood pressure is elevated,
  •    you notice increased swelling in legs, or belly,
  •    if you are more short of breath,
  •    or activity feels more strenuous. 

Avoid salty meals when the heat is on. Increased sodium intake makes you hold more fluid in the blood stream and with congestive heart failure that fluid backs up in the cardiovascular system working the heart extra hard. Stick to the fresh fruits and veggies, and a lemon aid.

When  heart  patients exercise but are fatigued from the heat already, it can be dangerous.  A good clinician would send them home or let them visit and enjoy the air conditioning.  No big deal if you miss a week or two due to a hot spell. You will get back to it. It is better to be safe than spend summer in the hospital or worse.

Keep in mind the air quality also gets worse when the heat and humidity are on. Poor air quality, air pollution is a known risk for increased heart attacks. If  you live in an area with lots of smog or pollution in the air, avoid doing strenuous activity outdoors as now you the additional risk added to the heat issues.

A recent study found that just two hours of exercising during increase ozone levels can cause unfavorable changes in heart function–even in those with no history of heart disease.

The study, recently published in the journal Circulation, asked healthy, young volunteers to participate in two hours of intermittent exercise in a lab while being exposed first to “clean” air, and then to air containing 0.3 parts per million of ozone. While this level is somewhat higher than average ozone levels in most U.S. cities, it is on par with the amount of ozone a person in an average American city would be exposed to if they spent seven to eight hours outside.

Ozone is a gas composed of three atoms of oxygen. Ozone occurs both in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and at ground level. Ozone can be good or bad, depending on where it is found. Troposheric, or ground level ozone, is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC). Ground level ozone can be especially bad in urban areas during hot summer months.

Scientists were surprised to find that after just two short hours under the ozone conditions, participants experienced a nearly 99 percent jump in levels of interleukin-8, an marker for inflammation in the blood vessels. They also showed a 42 percent drop in plasminogen levels, which lowers the body’s ability to break up blood clots.

“This study provides a plausible explanation for the link between acute ozone exposure and death,” Robert Devlin, a senior scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory and the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

Before planning a day of outdoor fun or exercise, be sure to check the ozone levels in your area. A complete evaluation of current ozone levels in the U.S. can be found at AirNow.gov.

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/ozone-attacks-your-heart-within-hours-of-exposure.html#ixzz1zsnlVFoI

  • Exercise when the heat has broken or exercise very lightly in air conditioning.
  •  Try a slow walk or a light bike in a cool environment.
  • Cut your intensity and duration in half.
  • Drink your water.
  • Don’t overdress. I always laugh when on the hottest days people show up to exercise in their sweat suits.
  •  Get in the water and exercise or just walk in the water.
  • Practice relaxation and meditation instead of strenuous exercise.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables for potassium and magnesium.
  • Consider electrolyte replacement.
  • Cold wet washclothes at the pulse points – wrists, neck or forehead to cool the body

Heat Exhaustion Treatment (be careful out there everyone!)

Call 911 if the person: Has a very high, weak pulse rate and rapid shallow breathing, especially when combined with high or low blood pressure. Is unconscious, disoriented, or has a high body temperature. Has warm, dry skin, elevated or lowered blood pressure, and is hyperventilating

1. Lower Body Temperature:
• Get the person out of the heat and into a cool environment.
• If air-conditioning is not available, fan the person.
• Spray the person with a garden hose, get him into a cool shower, apply cool compresses, or give the person a sponge bath

2. Rehydrate:
• Give cool, nonalcoholic beverages as long as the person is alert.

3. Rest:
• Have the person avoid physical activity for the rest of the day.
• Give over the counter acetaminophen if the person has a mild headache.

4. See a Health Care Provider:
Untreated heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke. See a doctor that day if:
• Symptoms get worse or last more than an hour
• The person is nauseated or vomiting


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