Heat and Heart Health Essentials

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Each summer seems to bring more extreme heat conditions, and that can be a problem for heart conditions like atrial fibrillation (afib) – a heart arrhythmia or irregular beat. Extreme heat makes your heart work harder, and that can trigger afib. It can also raise your risk for stroke and heart failure. The main concern for atrial fibrillation in high heat is dehydration. Loss of fluid can trigger an arrhythmia. Consider these tips to help protect your heart health this summer.

Drink Plenty of Fluids for a Healthy Heart

Dehydration, a known trigger for atrial fibrillation, is also a common trigger for stroke, the number one complication of afib. A study published in September 2014 in European Journal of Neurology found that patients who were dehydrated when they arrived at the hospital for stroke treatment fared worse than other patients.

Stay Indoors in Extreme Heat

Even if you drink fluids to protect heart health, your heart will still need to work harder in hot weather. Increasing the workload of your heart can trigger atrial fibrillation, and it can also increase your risk for congestive heart failure, Congestive heart failure is the other common complication of atrial fibrillation. It is a gradual weakening of your heart that may cause fluid to collect in your lungs and legs. To be on the safe side, stay inside and on extremely hot days, just avoid the heat as much as possible.

Avoid Exercising Outdoors in Hot Weather

For some people, exercise alone is a main trigger for heart arrhythmia. Exercising in the heat can also be physically exhausting, and physical exhaustion is another common trigger for atrial fibrillation.

Wear Light Clothing

In hot weather, it’s important to keep your body temperature from rising. High body temperature along with dehydration can lead to exhaustion or heat stroke. Symptoms include dizziness, nausea, clammy skin, headache, cramps, and a rapid heartbeat. If you have a heart condition like atrial fibrillation, you’re at higher risk.

 Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol

Too much caffeine or alcohol can trigger an attack of atrial fibrillation in some people. These also contribute to dehydration, making them a heat and heart-health risk. Because caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics and cause you to urinate more, they can increase your risk for dehydration, making them a heat and heart health risk in summer. Alcohol also dilates blood vessels, which may lower blood pressure and stress the heart. Caffeine may increase the risk for an arrhythmia because it stimulates and speeds up the heart.

Buddy Up for Safety

If you have a heart condition like atrial fibrillation or any other heart arrhythmia, it’s better not to be alone when the heat is very bad.  Make sure you and your buddy know what to do in the event of heat exhaustion or an attack of afib. If you have symptoms of heat exhaustion, get out of the heat, remove clothing, and cool off with a cool, damp towel. Take frequent breaks, and if you get symptoms like vomiting, chest pain, or shortness of breath, get medical treatment immediately.

 Check the Heat Index

The National Weather Service issues excessive-heat outlooks, watches, and warnings, using a heat index that combines the actual temperature plus humidity. Excessive heat is dangerous for everyone, but more so for people with a heart condition like atrial fibrillation. A heat wave can be deadly. Pay attention to weather service warnings. If excessive heat is predicted, change any plans that involve being outdoors.



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