How Heat Affects Your Heart and Body

Keepin' Cool With Sun Safety — How Heat Affects Your Heart and Body

The sum­mer heat can be a great change of pace from those cold win­ter months. There’s noth­ing quite like trad­ing your jeans for shorts or your sweater for a light t‑shirt. Sum­mer warmth is often the sig­nal for vaca­tion, relax­ation, and days spent with friends. 

While you’re enjoy­ing the warmer weath­er, it’s impor­tant to keep heat and sun safe­ty in mind too. From after­noons by the pool to bike rides by the lake, no mat­ter what sum­mer activ­i­ty you choose, the heat has an impact on your body — and espe­cial­ly your heart.

Know­ing how heat affects your heart can help you take pre­cau­tions that will help you stay cool — and healthy — this sum­mer. Here are 4 ways heat is affect­ing your heart.

1. Heat Makes Your Heart Work Harder

In gen­er­al, when it is hot­ter out­side, your body — and your heart — have to work hard­er to keep you cool. Your heart is actu­al­ly pump­ing more blood from your organs to under­neath your skin, which puts your heart under a dif­fer­ent kind of stress than normal.

Like sweat­ing, this is just one of the nat­ur­al ways your body is doing its job to keep you cool. But it’s impor­tant to remem­ber that even if you don’t feel like you’re doing a lot, your body is still work­ing hard­er than usual. 

2. Keep Track of Your Pulse

While brady­car­dia (slow heart rate), as well as tachy­car­dia (fast heart rate), may be relat­ed to under­ly­ing elec­tri­cal prob­lems involv­ing the heart, heat-relat­ed ill­ness­es like heat stroke or heat exhaus­tion can also come with the heart-relat­ed symp­tom of a fast pulse. 

If you feel your heart rac­ing, take a break and assess your­self for oth­er symp­toms of heat stroke or heat exhaus­tion. If your heart rates fail to improve with rest, cool­ing, and flu­ids, this may rep­re­sent an abnor­mal heart rhythm includ­ing atri­al fib­ril­la­tion, which can be asso­ci­at­ed with a dif­fer­ent type of stroke, and you should seek med­ical attention.

Heat Exhaus­tion vs. Heat Stroke Symptoms

Heat Exhaus­tion

  • Quick pulse (weak)
  • Mus­cle cramps 
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Feel­ing nau­seous or vomiting 
  • Skin feels cold and clammy

Heat Stroke — CALL 911

  • Quick pulse (strong)
  • High body temp (103°F or above) 
  • Headache, dizzi­ness, or confusion
  • Feel­ing nauseous 
  • Skin feels hot (dry or damp)

For most adults, the aver­age rest­ing heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. You may be able to feel your heart beat­ing faster than usu­al, but it can also be help­ful to take your own pulse if it feels out of the ordinary.

To check your pulse:

  1. Place your thumb on the inside of the wrist or two fin­gers (point­er and mid­dle) on the side of your neck. 
  2. Count the num­ber of heart­beats for 30 sec­onds — use a timer. 
  3. Mul­ti­ply by 2. 
  4. That is your heart rate! 

Addi­tion­al options to check your heart rate can include using a per­son­al watch with a heart rate mon­i­tor, a blood pres­sure machine that will give you a pulse read­ing, or a pulse oximeter.

3. Extreme Heat Events and Heart Events 

When it comes to those hot, hot sum­mer days, it’s often best to take it easy. In addi­tion to heat exhaus­tion and heat stroke, extreme heat events have been asso­ci­at­ed with high­er car­dio­vas­cu­lar death rates.

Whether you have a heart con­di­tion or not, it’s a good idea to pay atten­tion to the tem­per­a­ture and to take steps to pro­tect your heart. 

Avoid things like exer­cis­ing dur­ing the hottest times of the day, and opt for spend­ing time in air-con­di­tioned spaces when pos­si­ble. Be mind­ful of the weath­er, and pay atten­tion to warn­ings of extreme heat,” which are 2 or 3 days in a row when the tem­per­a­ture is above 90°F.

4. Mon­i­tor Heart Med­ica­tion Side-Effects 

If you are a heart patient, you may be tak­ing med­ica­tion to man­age your con­di­tion or main­tain your heart health. Dur­ing the sum­mer, it’s a good idea to re-read poten­tial side effects, because some heart med­ica­tions can affect your body’s abil­i­ty to respond to heat.

Heart med­ica­tions can make your body more vul­ner­a­ble to hot­ter tem­per­a­tures — and more sus­cep­ti­ble to heat-relat­ed ill­ness­es like heat stroke. 

Some heart med­ica­tions that may cause more seri­ous reac­tions to hot tem­per­a­tures include:

  • Ace recep­tor blockers
  • Ace inhibitors
  • Beta block­ers
  • Cal­ci­um chan­nel blockers 
  • Diuret­ics

If you are con­sid­er­ing start­ing an exer­cise rou­tine this sum­mer, talk to your Duly Health And Care pri­ma­ry care provider about your heart con­di­tion and any med­ica­tions you are taking. 

Put Your Heart Into Heat Safety

Just like the sun, heat is part of what makes sum­mer so nice. It’s great to spend time out­doors in the sun­shine and warmer tem­per­a­tures — but it’s not with­out its dangers.

Whether you spend your time read­ing a book in the sun or try­ing to meet your step goal, tak­ing the nec­es­sary pre­cau­tions to stay safe in the heat can help you enjoy your sum­mer to the fullest. 

If you have ques­tions about sum­mer safe­ty — or about how your med­ica­tions may react to heat and sun — sched­ule a vis­it with a Duly Health and Care provider today.

Health Topics: