Effects of heat on the cardiovascular system

Why should you be careful if you have a cardiovascular disorder and the temperature rises?

High temperature and humidity can make you feel sweaty, damp and downright uncomfortable. For most people, this is only a minor annoyance if they want to enjoy your outdoor activities in warm weather. But with heart disease, it can be harder for our bodies to handle the heat or cool down when the temperature rises. Our heart plays a huge role in keeping our body cool. If we are not able to cool our bodies properly, it increases the risk of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Although these health problems can happen to anyone, people with cardiovascular disease are at a much higher risk.

When the temperature rises, our heart has to work harder. When our heart isn't working properly, it puts a strain on our cardiovascular system and makes it harder to keep the body cool. Here are the answers to common questions about the relationship between the heart and the body's heat tolerance, and what to do if you or others are experiencing signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.


Why is it harder for us to cool down when our heart is sick?

When it's hot, our heart has to circulate 2-4 times as much blood per minute as it does on a cool day.

Narrowed arteries can limit blood flow to the skin, and a damaged heart may not pump enough blood to efficiently transfer heat away from the body.


Can heart medications affect the body's response to heat?

Medicines such as beta-blockers, ACE-receptor inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and diuretics can make our bodies more sensitive to heat.

Some reduce hydration levels or slow heart rate, which reduces the rate at which the heart pumps blood. If you are taking these medicines, have heart disease, or you are overweight, or are over 50, you may need to take special precautions when the temperature rises.


If you feel dizzy when it's hot, is it caused by your heart?

The heart has to increase the amount of blood flowing to the skin when it's hot to keep the body cooler, and this can reduce the blood supply to the brain.

In addition to water, we also loose sodium and potassium when we sweat. This combination can quickly lower your blood pressure, which can cause dizziness. If you feel dizzy or faint, rest in a cool place with your feet elevated and drink non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated beverages such as water or juice.


What are the signs of heat exhaustion?

People with heart disease are at greater risk of heat exhaustion.

Signs of heat exhaustion include:

- Profuse sweating

- Cold and clammy skin

- Dizziness

- Rapid but weak pulse

- Weakness

- Headache

- Muscle spasms

- Nausea

- Vomiting

- Dark urine

If you experience these symptoms, stop what you are doing and go to a cooler place and rest.

Drink plenty of water or other caffeine-free liquids. Use a cool compress to cool your body or take a cold shower or bath.


Heatstroke is a medical emergency

Heatstroke can also be a serious health hazard, so in such cases we must seek medical help.

Call the emergency if you experience any of the following symptoms:

- High body temperature (39.5 degrees Celsius or higher)

- Hot, reddened skin

- Fast, strong pulse

- Dizziness

- Nausea

- Confusion

- Headache

- Possible loss of consciousness

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