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Protecting Your Heart in Summer Heat

Heart in Summer HeatSummer 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, Director of Clinical Cardiology at Lankenau Medical Center and Main Line HealthCare.

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 noon and 3 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.”

No matter what the state of your health is, there are some symptoms you shouldn’t ignore and that mean it’s time to go indoors immediately. Keep an eye out for signs of heat stroke, including:

  • Warm, dry skin with no sweating
  • Strong and rapid pulse
  • Confusion or unconsciousness
  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting

If you notice any of these symptoms, go indoors and seek emergency medical attention immediately. Additional symptoms like headache, dizziness, muscle cramps, or shallow breathing are signs that it’s time to go inside and take a break.

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