The heat is here! Is your heart ready?

Heat is hard on the heart; take precautions and stay healthy

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With summer temperatures heating up throughout Rhode Island, and many of us heading for outdoor activities, the Southern New England American Heart Association is sharing the importance of preventing heat exhaustion and heat stroke, both of which can have serious effects on health.

Extremely hot weather causes dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These risks increase when the humidity is above 70 % and the temperature is above 70 degrees F. Heat and humidity interfere with the body’s natural cooling process. In hot weather, the body tries to cool itself by shifting blood from major organs to underneath the skin. This shift causes the heart to pump more blood, putting it under significantly more stress.

“Heat stroke, heat “cramps” and/or heat exhaustion are conditions that can happen when a person’s body temperature rises abnormally in very hot and humid weather, especially when not drinking enough fluids,” shared Dr. Robert H. Schwengel, MD, FACC of Southcoast Health, and Southern New England American Heart Association Board President.

Dehydration causes the heart to work harder, putting it at risk. Hydration helps the heart more easily pump blood through the blood vessels to the muscles. And it helps the muscles work efficiently. The American Heart Association suggests that everyone follows these top 5 hot weather precautions:

  • Watch the clock: It’s best to avoid the outdoors in the early afternoon (12 p.m. – 3 p.m.) because the sun is at its strongest, elevating the risk for heat-related illnesses.
  • Dress for heat: Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing in breathable fabrics such as cotton, or a fabric that repels sweat. Add a hat and sunglasses. Before you get started, apply a water-resistant sunscreen with at least SPF 15, and reapply it every two hours.
  • Drink up: Stay hydrated by drinking a few cups of water before, during and after going outside or exercising. Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.
  • Take regular breaks: Find some shade or a cool place to break in and hydrate.
  • Follow the doctor’s orders: Continue to take all medications as prescribed.

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“It is especially likely to affect older people, people who have heart or lung disease, and other health problems, and if taking certain cardiac medications; so these patients need to be extra careful in, or avoid, hot, humid or poor air quality conditions,” added Dr. Schwengel. “Heat stroke is a medical emergency that can quickly lead to death if not treated quickly.”

Make sure you watch for symptoms and signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke:

Symptoms of heat exhaustion:

  • headaches
  • heavy sweating
  • cold, moist skin, chills
  • dizziness or fainting (syncope)
  • a weak and rapid pulse
  • muscle cramps
  • fast, shallow breathing
  • nausea, vomiting or both

If you experience these symptoms, move to a cooler place, and cool down immediately by dousing yourself with cold water and re-hydrating. You may need to seek medical attention.

Symptoms of heat stroke:

  • warm, dry skin with no sweating
  • strong and rapid pulse
  • confusion and/or unconsciousness
  • high fever
  • throbbing headaches
  • nausea, vomiting or both

If you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention right away. Heat stroke is not the same as a stroke. Stroke happens when a blood vessel to the brain either bursts or is blocked by a clot, causing a decrease in oxygen flow to the brain. By taking precautions, everyone can get through the heat in good shape and still have summer fun! For more information visit