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Protecting your heart in summer heat

Lankenau Medical Center June 1, 2016 General Wellness
Last Updated on June 22, 2018

Summer is here, and while that means trips to the beach and weekend getaways, most of us tend to forget that these outdoor activities and summer heat can take a toll on even the healthiest of hearts.

“It’s easy to assume that if you’re a relatively healthy person, then your heart can handle the heat, but that’s not always the case. The effects of heat can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening,” explains Irving Herling, MD, Lankenau Heart Institute cardiologist and director of clinical cardiology at Lankenau Medical Center, part of Main Line Health.

Although high temperatures can be dangerous, don’t be afraid to spend some time outside. But make sure you’re following a few guidelines to make sure you’re not overdoing it:

  • Dress for the heat with lightweight, light-colored clothing in breathable fabrics, like cotton.
  • Stay hydrated with cups of water before, during, and after your time outside, especially during exercise. Avoid alcohol or caffeinated beverages.
  • Limit your time outdoors and try to avoid being outside between 12:00 pm and 3:00 pm. These early afternoon hours are when the sun is at its strongest.
  • Take frequent breaks to go inside or find some shade. Spend a few minutes there re-hydrating, and then get back to having fun.

For most of us, following these guidelines for time spent outdoors this summer can protect against serious health risks like heat exhaustion or heat stroke. But for some people, particularly heart patients and those with similar health issues, additional precautions should be taken.

“Patients who are overweight, over the age of 50, have a heart condition, or who are taking blood pressure medications should be extra careful in summer heat,” says Dr. Herling. “In cases like these, it’s best to have a conversation with your doctor about how much time you can spend outdoors, and specific activities to avoid.”

Recognizing heat exhaustion and heat stroke

No matter what the state of your health is, there are some symptoms you shouldn’t ignore. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can both be results of spending too much time in the sun, and are signs that it’s time to head inside.

Heat exhaustion, which is less severe than heat stroke but still serious, is marked by symptoms like:

  • Headache
  • Dark urine
  • Cool, moist skin
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of heat exhaustion, stop what you’re doing and head for shade or a cooler environment. These symptoms are also indicative of dehydration, so re-hydrate with water, and use cool compresses and wet cloths to bring down your body’s temperature.

Heat stroke, which can be particularly dangerous, has many of the same symptoms as heat exhaustion, but can also be accompanied by others, like:

  • Warm, dry skin with no sweating
  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • Confusion or unconsciousness
  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid, shallow breathing

If you notice any of these symptoms, go indoors and call 911 immediately.

There’s no need to fear time spent under the sun this summer, but make sure you put your heart—and your health—first.

With four hospitals and many community cardiology sites throughout the region, Lankenau Heart Institute’s team of cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons and sub-specialists seamlessly integrate prevention, diagnostics, treatment, rehabilitation and disease management into one uncompromising service. Visit our website to learn more about the Lankenau Heart Institute. Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a Lankenau Heart Institute specialist, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.