There are plenty of wonderful things about life in Louisiana: our rich cultural heritage, countless options for live music, delicious cuisine, festivals for every occasion, and our famous hospitality, to name a few. However, nothing is perfect, and living in Louisiana is no exception.
Our sweltering summer heat is enough at times to send even the hardiest of locals running for the AC. Unfortunately, for many people with certain health conditions, hot and humid days are more than just an inconvenience. Prolonged exposure to intense heat can actually have some serious consequences for the heart.
Life in a Subtropical Climate
Louisiana’s unique geography, with a low altitude, the mouths of two rivers, and a long border with the Gulf of Mexico, creates our subtropical weather patterns. The summer months are not only our hottest, but also most humid, since Louisiana gets most of its precipitation from June to August. The heat is intensified in cities, which can be up to 16 degrees hotter than in rural areas.
For the past few decades, summer temperatures have been getting hotter and hotter. Each year, more days reach temperatures that are classified as dangerously hot. Right now, that number is at 35 days per year, but if the current trends continue, it will be up to 115 days by 2050. It seems there is no better time than now to start building some heart-healthy habits.
How Does Heat Affect the Heart?
Our bodies keep us cool in two ways: by radiating heat from our skin, and by perspiration. To rid our bodies of excess heat from radiation, the heart works hard to send our blood to the surface of our skin.
As long as the outside air is cooler than our body temperature, heat will naturally flow from our skin to the surrounding air.
Perspiration also creates more work for our hearts. The sweat that cools our bodies when it evaporates off our skin needs to be replaced, or it is essentially robbing precious fluids from our heart’s blood supply. This means the heart has to pump harder to circulate blood to the organs.
Several factors can further complicate both of these natural reactions to the heat. Listed below are some of the most common:
- Medications. Certain medications, including diuretics, cause people to urinate more frequently, resulting in loss of fluids.
- Drugs, alcohol, and caffeine. Stimulant drugs increase body temperature, alcohol, and caffeine cause dehydration, and controlled substances of all varieties tend to lead to poor decision-making.
- Mental illness. People with some mental illnesses may not be able to accurately read their bodies’ cues that they are thirsty or hot.
- Advanced age. Our ability to regulate our body temperature lessens with age. Elderly people should be extra cautious about drinking plenty of water and avoiding going out for long periods in the summer heat.
- Dehydration. Not enough water in the system means that not enough blood can be produced, so the heart cannot build up enough blood pressure to properly service the organs. Dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke if the signs aren’t recognized.
How Can I Keep My Heart Healthy in the Summer?
Don’t go out in the hottest part of the day if you can help it. On the hottest days, spend at least an hour or two in the air conditioning to give your body a chance to cool down. Stay hydrated! Drink enough fluids that your urine is coming out clear, and avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.
Exercise indoors if possible, or choose the early morning or evening for your outdoor workout when it’s cooler out. Better yet, get your exercise in the pool! Wear sunscreen when outside to help your skin repel UV rays, which can increase your body temperature.
Keep an eye on elderly or ill loved ones and encourage them to get enough water. If you start to feel twitches, nausea, fatigue, or disorientation, these could be warning signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Get to an air-conditioned area and drink an 8 ounce glass of water every 15 minutes until you feel better. If you don’t feel better, you might need to be rehydrated via IV drip, so get to the hospital immediately.
Read also: Heart Attack Warning Signs
For any further information about how the summer heat affects your heart, contact CT Cardio today. Dr. Thomas is a leading cardiologist in Lafayette LA, and he and his staff are standing by to help you and your loved ones to achieve optimal heart health this summer.