Your favorite summertime playlist probably has more songs about surfing than about potential health risks. But with much of the nation having already sweated out a historic heat wave in June, health experts would like to add a note of caution to the mix.
Hot weather is like a stress test for your heart, said Dr. Lance Becker, chair of emergency medicine at Northwell Health, a health care provider in New York. And some people respond poorly to such stress. “They could have a heart attack. Their congestive heart failure symptoms could get much worse. Or they could have an arrhythmia,” the medical term for an irregular heartbeat.
Our bodies are designed to handle the heat. But high temps and overexertion can push them to the limit, leading to dangerous, potentially deadly heatstroke, according to Rush University Medical Center.
So what, exactly, is heatstroke, and how does it happen?
The body reacts to hot conditions by sending messages to the blood vessels, telling them to dilate. This sends warm blood, fluids and salts to the skin, setting off the process of evaporation. But after prolonged heat exposure, the body sweats so much that it depletes itself of fluids and salts.
“Problems occur when a person is in the heat for a long time or in such extremes of heat or humidity that the evaporation process fails,” says Edward Ward, MD, an emergency medicine specialist at Rush University Medical Center.
Signs of heatstroke
How do you know if it’s heatstroke? Look for the following symptoms:
A body temperature above 103 degrees
Red, hot, dry skin
A rapid, strong heartbeat
A throbbing headache
Getting help for heatstroke
Heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency. If you have these symptoms, you need to cool down quickly while you or someone else calls for help.
“One of the most effective ways to cool down is to spray or douse your body with water and sit by a fan to kick-start the evaporation process,” Ward says. “This will help decrease your temperature while you are waiting for medical assistance.”
An ounce of prevention
Because heatstroke is so serious, Ward strongly advises focusing on prevention. This is especially true for people age 65 and older, who are at higher risk for heat illness simply because the regulating mechanism becomes less effective with time.
Cardiovascular and neurological conditions also increase the risk for heatstroke, as do medications that interfere with the body’s ability to sweat properly, such as antipsychotics and antispasmodics.
People with these conditions or on these medications should pay special attention to the weather and the heat index — the combination of heat and humidity. If temperatures rise, drink lots of fluids and stay in a cool place.
“If you’re worried or think you’re having problems because of the heat, try to contact your primary care doctor,” Ward says. “But if it’s a real crisis, go to the emergency room. We’d much rather see you sooner than later.”
With many areas of the country facing triple digit temperatures and summer heat and humidity elsewhere, the American Heart Association, a global force for longer, healthier lives for all, is urging people to take extra steps to protect their hearts. Precautions are especially important for older adults and individuals with high blood pressure, obesity or a history of heart disease and stroke.
Temperatures over 100 or even temperatures in the 80s with high humidity can cause a dangerous heat index that can be hard on the heart. Recent research published in Circulation, the flagship journal of the American Heart Association, found that when temperatures reach extremes of an average daily temperature of 109 degrees Fahrenheit, the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease may double or triple. Another study, featured at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference, suggests that the more temperatures fluctuate during the summer, the more severe strokes may become.
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.
“If you’re a heart patient, older than 50 or overweight, the American Heart Association suggests you take special precautions in the heat to protect your heart,” said Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Sc.M., FAHA, the American Heart Association’s new volunteer president and chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
O’Hare airport recorded a 94-degree high Saturday –the 9th 90-degree day so far this month and 14th of the season
Yesterday I delineated the danger signs of exercising in hot weather, but didn’t explain exactly how heat impacted the body itself.
Also I mentioned in an earlier post that my doctor told me not to go biking when there are 90 plus degree heat advisories. My daily biking has brought my resting heart rate down below 50 and I have less than 17 percent body fat on me. I am in great shape and prior to my doctor warning me about it, I had ridden regularly in heat waves. She said that despite my conditioning it was not safe for me. She said that she also told her 40 year old patients not to go out either. I have to confess that I was skeptical about this. I do believe…
I got into yoga some years ago when I dated a woman who taught it. We went out for about two years and did yoga at least once a day. After we split up I still did yoga daily for several years.This was all before the current yoga craze. My experience of yoga was totally positive. I achieved excellent physical balance and learned through breath control to deal with stress. I can’t give you a good reason for stopping outside of mental and physical inertia.
I did not do hot yoga, nor even hear of it in that time. If you aren’t aware of it, hot yoga is done in a temperature of 105 Fahrenheit with humidity around 40 percent.
Those are hot conditions to do anything.
Consumer Reports recently reported on woman who complained that it left her light-headed, fatigued and weak. “I was completely exhausted, just depleted,” Julianne Pepe said of her reactions after practicing hot yoga.
These sound suspiciously like the symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stoke.
As a cyclist in all four seasons, I am very aware of these symptoms. Please check out my page – What to Do About Extreme Heat for more on the dangers of extreme heat.
I haven’t heard a lot of reports like this from folks doing hot yoga. I know there are good aspects of the heat, too. Studio owner, Rich Pike, told Consumer Reports, “Heat allows you to bend safely and be more flexible. What the sweating does is it eliminates toxins through your sweat.”
It is true that sweating releases toxins from the body. But, keep in mind sweat contains other chemicals including salt and potassium which are vital electrolytes. Doing an extended hot yoga session and getting dehydrated can be dangerous to your health.
As in all situations, you need to listen to what your body is telling you. If you are benefitting from the practice, you won’t be getting mixed signals like confusion, light-headedness, etc.