Beat the Heat — Beware Summer's Hazards for the HeartBy Anita Neal Harrison — Public Relations | Lake Regional Health System

Summer, the Lake of the Ozark’s favorite season, is nearly here. And, as people begin shaking off their winter slumber, they should consider how heart health can affect their readiness for summertime fun.

“People often settle into a hibernation mode when the weather is cold,” says Jennifer Newman, R.N., CEN, cPT, a Lake Regional nurse educator in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department. “Now that it’s almost summer, people want to be outdoors and moving more. More activity is good, so long as people keep in mind they might not be in tip-top condition following a laid–back winter. There are dangers to the heart that come with this season of sun.”

Beware of these three summertime hazards for the heart.

SUMMERTIME DANGER NO. 1: OVERDOING IT
“Diet and sedentary behavior have been directly linked to cardiovascular disease,” Newman says. “Patients with heart disease or risk factors for heart disease put themselves in danger if they embark on activities that are more strenuous than they are accustomed to. Things like family vacations or sporting events may expose people to heat and physical conditions that are beyond the safe limits.”

Stay safe by being realistic about your physical condition, Newman says.

“For example, if you sit most of the time in your day-to-day life, taking a hike in the heat or altitude on a trip may not be the best choice,” she says. “Be wary of doing too much too fast. Plan ahead. If you want to have an active, full vacation with your family, begin a walking routine six to eight weeks before the trip.”

Newman adds that even something that seems simple — such as carrying a cooler or climbing stairs from a dock — can prove more strenuous than what a heart can take, particularly in the summer heat.

Beat the Heat — Beware Summer's Hazards for the HeartSUMMERTIME DANGER NO. 2: DEHYDRATION
During an average day, the average person needs three quarts of water, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That amount goes up with activity and with temperature.

“When you are exerting yourself, especially in warm or humid conditions, drink a cup of water every 20 to 30 minutes,” Newman says. “Avoid sugary or caffeinated drinks, and limit your alcohol intake.”

Dehydration puts you at risk of having a heat-related illness, the next danger on this list.

SUMMERTIME DANGER NO. 3: HEAT EMERGENCIES
Heat illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke, occur when the body temperature rises to an unsafe level.

“Heat-related conditions can be especially dangerous for people with heart disease,” Newman says. “It’s important to know the signs.”

Muscle cramping is usually the first stage of a heat illness. Additional signs of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale and clammy skin; fast, weak pulse; nausea or vomiting; and fainting.

If heat exhaustion hits, move to a cooler location. Lie down, and loosen your clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths to as much of your body as possible. Sip water. If you vomit repeatedly, seek medical attention immediately.

Even worse than heat exhaustion is heatstroke. In heatstroke, a person’s body temperature keeps rising, which can cause shock, brain
damage, organ failure and even death. Signs include a body temperature above 103 degrees; hot, red, dry or moist skin; rapid and strong pulse; and possible unconsciousness.

“Heatstroke is a medical emergency and requires immediately calling 911,” Newman says. “While waiting for help, move the person to a cooler environment, and use cool cloths or even a cool bath to lower the person’s body temperature.”

Do not give fluids to someone experiencing a heatstroke.

As is often the case in medicine, the best treatment is prevention. Avoid heat-related illness by drinking water every 15 minutes, whether thirsty or not; taking frequent breaks out of the sun; and wearing cool clothing with head shading.

“It’s also very important to check in with your doctor before you embark on your summer adventures and make sure it is safe for you to engage in your planned activities,” Newman says. “When talking with your doctor, come up with a contingency plan in case you encounter problems away from home.”

For more heart health tips, visit Lake Regional’s Health Smart blog here.