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Changing Lifestyles, Changing Habits: Heart Patients and the Heat

separator You hear a lot each winter about being careful when you shovel snow, especially if you’ve had heart disease or are at risk for it. But being careful in hot weather is important too. It’s safe to say that weather extremes of any kind can be a problem.

High humidity can make you tired more easily. Extreme heat can affect your circulation, which in turn can make breathing difficult and cause chest pain. On really hot, humid days, exercising in an air conditioned environment is a better option. Remember too that extreme heat can make your regular exercise routine more difficult. For example, if there’s a hill on your walk that hasn’t ever seemed to cause you any trouble, it might cause you some trouble in hot weather. Take it more slowly, or choose another route.

If you experience shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat or unusual tiredness when you’re exercising, you should stop. Rest and elevate your feet.

What are the danger signs during exercise?
Be aware of danger signs. Stop exercising if you experience

  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Pressure or pain in the chest, neck, arm, jaw or shoulder

If you don’t feel well for a day or two, it’s probably a good idea to skip your workout. If you have any doubts, ask your doctor. And if hot weather keeps you from exercising for a while, be sure to ease back into it carefully.

For people with angina
Extremely hot weather (extremely cold weather too) can trigger angina pain, usually a pressing or squeezing pain in the chest under the breast bone, but sometimes in the shoulders, neck, arms, jaw and back. If you have angina, ask your doctor what kinds of precautions you should take during hot weather.

For people with high blood pressure
If you’re taking ACE inhibitors or other medications for high blood pressure, be sure to ask your doctor whether you should limit your time in the heat. And make sure to drink plenty of fluids when you’re exercising and when you’re outside in the hot weather.

For people with heart failure
People who have heart failure often have to restrict their fluid intake, because their bodies tend to retain fluid. Summer can be a challenge for them. First of all, being outside in the warm weather makes them want to drink more. As you get more dehydrated, you drink more water. And common summertime foods, like chips, hot dogs and beer, are high in salt, which makes fluid retention even worse.

Symptoms that indicate your heart failure may be getting worse include

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Swelling in the chest, abdomen or arms

Call your doctor if you experience these symptoms.

Keep in mind…
Older people generally have more trouble in hot weather, as do people who are overweight. So if you fall into either of these categories and you have a heart condition, be especially careful.

What should you ask your doctor about hot weather?
You don’t have to figure out yourself whether the hot weather is dangerous for you. Everybody’s different, so ask your doctor what kinds of precautions you should take in the heat. Here are some of the questions you may want to ask:

  • Do any of my medications make exercise during hot weather unsafe?
  • How long you should exercise in extreme heat? Should I exercise at all in extreme heat?
  • How does bad air quality affect my heart condition?
  • What are the signs that indicate I should stop exercising?
  • What are the signs that I should call the doctor?
  • What are the signs that I should call 9-1-1?

The American Heart Association; The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; M DeBakey, a Gott. The New Living Heart. Adams Media Corporation, Holbrook, Massachusetts, 02343, 1997.
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