The Cardiologist's Wife: Beat The Heat

Brittney Osborn


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The Cardiologist's Wife: Beat The Heat

by Lisa Tedder 

Summer of 2023 was the Earth’s hottest since global record keeping began in 1880, and, so far, this summer looks to be on repeat. In May, temperatures in Miami were nearly 10 degrees hotter than average at 96, and howler monkeys literally dropped dead from heatstroke in Mexico. The frequency, intensity and length of heat waves are increasing and happening earlier in the year. As we head into the hottest part of summer, pay attention to the forecast, and be prepared to deal with heat-related problems.

The biggest threat to people’s lives from climate-related weather is heat, not storms. While heat is not always the direct cause of death, heat exacerbates other health problems because the body must work harder to keep organs at a healthy temperature, placing a strain on the cardiovascular system. In hot weather, people with pre-existing conditions are more likely to have heart attacks, strokes or complications from diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Drug overdoses rise as drugs may affect users’ awareness of heat or inhibit sweating. Many prescription drugs like blood pressure medicines, diuretics and antipsychotics can lead to problems like dehydration in extreme heat.

Scientists are working on new ways to inform the public of potential health risks during heat waves, because we aren’t used to thinking of heat as dangerous. The National Weather Service working with the CDC released a new tool called NWS HeatRisk, a website to monitor heat and health risks across the U.S. People can use the map to assess the health risk in their area. The website tracks how unusual the temperature is for the time of year, the projected duration of the heat wave and the CDC’s projections of possible health threats from the heat to provide up-to-date information.

Be aware of heat conditions and know the signs of heat-related illnesses to keep your family safe. Children and older people are more susceptible to the heat. Children get hot faster and don’t handle the heat as well because their systems are immature. They sweat less and may not be drinking enough fluids. Older people are more likely to have chronic diseases that affect their body’s ability to regulate temperature and maintain a normal fluid balance, and their medications may make things worse. Older adults may not drink enough due to dementia or for other reasons. Others more likely to be affected by the heat are the homeless, emergency responders such as firemen, athletes, those who work outdoors, pets and other animals.

Heat-related problems can develop rapidly and may not be obvious until it becomes life threatening. Learn the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and the steps you should take to prevent things from deteriorating when someone is struggling with the heat.

• Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating and clogged pores. It may cover large areas of the body but often occurs on the neck, chest, groin, under the breasts or in elbow creases. It looks like a red cluster of pimples or blisters and can be very uncomfortable and lead to secondary infections. Shower in cool water, avoid oily moisturizers and keep skin dry and cool.

• Heat cramps affect people who have sweated excessively after engaging in strenuous outdoor activities; they have lost too many salts and fluids, resulting in painful muscle cramps in the stomach, arms, legs or other body parts. Rest, drink plenty of fluids with electrolytes, stretch or massage the affected area, and avoid strenuous exertion for several hours.

• Heat syncope or fainting occurs in individuals who are not used to the heat or are dehydrated and experience low blood flow to the brain. It may occur if you are standing for long periods or wearing heavy equipment such as football pads that increase sweating and dehydration. Move the person to a cool, shady area and have them lie down. Elevate their legs and monitor vital signs to ensure their condition does not continue to deteriorate. Give them water or a sports drink.

• Heat exhaustion means the body has overheated. The person may have cool skin with goose bumps, heavy sweating, faintness, dizziness, weak or rapid pulse, low blood pressure, cramps, nausea or headache. Move the person to a cool place and rest. Give plenty of cool water or a sports drink.

 
• A heat stroke is life threatening; it can damage the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles. The body can’t control its temperature, causing the temperature to rise rapidly. The patient may be confused, agitated, irritable or have slurred speech. The skin may feel hot and dry or slightly moist. Other symptoms include red skin, rapid breathing and a racing heart rate. Call 911, and take action to cool the person quickly, including hosing or using ice.

Minutes matter when someone is suffering from the heat. If you think someone is having a heat-related problem, get them inside where there is air conditioning or the coolest place you can find, and get them fluids. Get emergency help if they do not feel better within a half hour or so or symptoms worsen.

Stay safe this summer. Keep your home cool or find somewhere cool to stay as much as possible. Drink extra water or sports drinks, especially when outdoors. Wear light clothing and take frequent breaks when working or playing outdoors. Keep pets indoors if possible or in the shade with plenty of water or fans.

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