Published on 11th July 2023
As the temperature rises, so does the risk to our heart health. Heat waves are not only uncomfortable, but they can also pose serious health risks, particularly to individuals with pre-existing heart conditions. With summer already here, it’s crucial to be prepared and take necessary precautions to ensure a safe and happy season. From understanding the physiology behind heat-related heart issues to learning about the warning signs and symptoms to watch out for, we’ve got you covered. So, grab a cold drink, find some shade, and let’s take a deep dive into staying safe during the hottest days of the summer.
Heat waves can take a toll on our cardiovascular system, especially for those with pre-existing heart conditions. When the body is exposed to high temperatures, the heart must work harder to cool the body down, leading to an increase in heart rate. This increased workload on the heart can cause a strain, which is particularly dangerous for individuals with weakened hearts. Additionally, heat waves can lead to dehydration, which can further stress the cardiovascular system. Understanding how our bodies respond to heat and taking the necessary steps to protect our heart health during hot weather is important.
One of the key physiological responses to heat is the dilation of blood vessels. This is the body’s way of cooling down by increasing blood flow to the skin’s surface. However, this can also lead to a drop in blood pressure, making it harder for the heart to pump blood effectively. For individuals with underlying heart conditions, this can be especially problematic. It’s important to monitor blood pressure regularly during heat waves and take the necessary steps to manage it.
Read also: How the Sun is affecting your blood pressure
In addition to the increased workload on the heart and the drop in blood pressure, heat waves can also trigger arrhythmias or irregular heart rhythms. This is due to the body’s attempt to cool down by sweating. As our body loses water through sweat, the electrolyte balance can be disrupted, leading to an imbalance in the heart’s electrical signals. It’s important to be aware of any changes in heart rhythm during hot weather and seek medical attention if necessary.
Recognising the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses is key for early intervention and preventing serious complications. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are the two most common heat-related illnesses that can affect individuals during heat waves.
Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness and can occur when the body loses excessive amounts of water and salt through sweating. Symptoms may include excessive sweating, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, nausea, headache, and muscle cramps. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heatstroke, which is a life-threatening condition.
Heatstroke is a medical emergency that occurs when the body’s temperature regulation system fails, and it cannot cool itself down. Symptoms can include a high body temperature (above 39.4°C), altered mental state, rapid and shallow breathing, rapid heartbeat, flushed skin, and loss of consciousness. If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
Beat the heat and stay safe during heat waves with these tips:
1. Stay indoors during the hottest parts of the day: Avoid going outside during peak sun hours, typically between 10 am and 4 pm. If you must go outside, try to stay in shaded areas or use an umbrella to protect yourself from direct sunlight.
2. Wear lightweight and breathable clothing: Stay cooler in the heat by opting for loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing made from natural fabrics like cotton or linen, which promote air circulation and facilitate sweat evaporation.
3. Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Water is best, you can also include hydrating foods like fruits and vegetables in your diet.
4. Get a fan: Fans can be used strategically to create a breeze and promote air circulation.
5. Take cool showers or baths: Cooling your body with a refreshing shower or bath can help lower your body temperature and relieve the heat.
If you have a pre-existing heart condition, you should follow these guidelines:
1. Consult with your healthcare provider: They can provide personalised recommendations and advice based on your specific condition.
2. Take your medications as prescribed: Some medications may need adjustments during summer, so follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.
3. Monitor your symptoms: Pay close attention to any changes in your symptoms or how you feel during heat waves. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or any other concerning symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
4. Avoid extreme temperatures: Limit your exposure to extreme temperatures. Stay indoors and avoid direct sunlight for extended periods.
5. Stay informed: Stay updated on weather forecasts and heat wave alerts in your area. This will help you plan your activities and take necessary precautions ahead of time.
6. Have an emergency plan: Create an emergency plan with your loved ones in case of a heat-related health crisis. Share this plan with family members, friends, and caregivers, so they know how to assist you if needed.
Read also: Summer foods to lower blood pressure
Stay informed about heatwave alerts and updates with these resources:
UKHSA: The UKHSA has issued a Level 3 heat-health alert for the East Midlands and South West regions of England. This means there is a 90% probability of temperatures reaching heatwave thresholds in these regions from 9 am on Monday, July 11, until 9 am on Friday, July 15.
Met Office: The Met Office has issued a Level 3 heat-health alert for East Midlands, South West, East of England, South East and London. This means there is a 90% probability of temperatures reaching heatwave thresholds in these regions from 9 am on Monday, July 11, until 9 am on Friday, July 15.
Read more: Heat-health Alert service
NHS England: NHS England has published guidance on how to stay safe in hot weather. This guidance includes advice on staying hydrated, staying cool, and looking out for vulnerable people.
Read more: Hot weather news and advice
Amidst rising temperatures and potential heat waves, prioritising heart health is important for a safe and enjoyable summer.