Heatwave and heart attack: What’s the connection? How to beat extreme heat and manage heart health | Health

Heatwave alerts have been issued for several states as the country braces for extended spell of extreme heat in the coming months. Scorching summer heat not only makes you sweat more, it also burdens our essential body functions, posing a significant risk of health complications due to heat exhaustion and dehydration. Heatwave can also affect the way our heart functions. In order to regulate our body temperature, our heart has to work extra hard to ensure blood flow. This can put a strain on the crucial organ and a lack of proper cardiovascular care can make one susceptible to events like heart attack.

Heatwave and heart attack: While individuals with healthy cardiovascular systems may tolerate this stress, those with pre-existing heart conditions are at heightened risk, potentially leading to heart attacks,(Shutterstock)

Drinking sufficient fluids in hot weather conditions can help support normal body function. It is also crucial to avoid peak hour sunlight, wear cotton clothing and stay in air conditioning to mitigate effects of heatwave. (Also read | Heatwave alert in India: How to protect against extreme heat; preventive tips to follow)

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“As the world grapples with the increasing frequency of extreme weather events due to climate change, understanding the connection between heatwaves and heart attacks becomes paramount. Heatwaves not only pose a direct risk to human health through heat-related illnesses but also exacerbate existing conditions like cardiovascular diseases,” says Dr Abhijit Khadtare, Cardiologist at Ruby Hall Clinic, Pune. (Also read: 10 hydrating fruits to beat the heatwave and stay healthy)

What’s the connection between heatwaves and heart attacks?

“During a heatwave, the body’s thermoregulation mechanisms are put to the test. To cool itself down, the body relies on sweating and increased blood flow to the skin. This places a significant burden on the heart, which must pump harder and faster to facilitate this process. While individuals with healthy cardiovascular systems may tolerate this stress, those with pre-existing heart conditions are at heightened risk, potentially leading to heart attacks,” adds Dr Khadtare.

“The human body is primed to work optimally between specific temperatures in the surroundings. At extreme of temperature, there will be changes in the metabolism which will translate into defective functioning of various organs of the body. The extreme of temperature has deleterious effects on functioning of heart. During extreme heat waves, as seen in subcontinent in summer, there will be increased sweating, loss of fluid leading to dehydration. The heart has to work extra hard to maintain adequate circulation. This can increase the strain on the heart and can lead to heart attack, particularly in those who already have underlying conditions like hypertension and diabetes,” says Dr. Sashi K Srivastav, Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad.

Signs and symptoms of heart issues during heatwave

Symptoms of heart trouble during a heatwave include heavy sweating, weakness, cold and clammy skin, fainting, and vomiting. These signs indicate heat exhaustion or heatstroke, both of which require immediate medical attention as they can escalate to severe complications like heart attacks.

Steps to beat the heat

Taking care of the heart during summer involves prioritising hydration, maintaining electrolyte balance, and avoiding excessive exertion during hot weather. Additionally, individuals with cardiovascular conditions should adhere to their prescribed medications and consult their healthcare providers for personalized recommendations.

“Preventative measures during heatwaves are crucial, especially for individuals with cardiovascular issues. Staying hydrated is key to counteracting dehydration, which can strain the heart. Avoiding direct sunlight during peak hours, utilizing fans or air conditioning, and wearing lightweight clothing can also help mitigate the impact of extreme heat,” says Dr Khadtare.

Dr Srivastav says people with pre-existing heart conditions should avoid overexertion, hydrate themselves regularly and ask their physician to adjust doses of some drugs.

“There can be a sense of fatigue and dehydration in patients who are taking some drugs like diuretics in summer. The dose of these drugs should be adjusted to account for increase sweating. Heavy workout or physical activity during intense heat can activate sympathetic system leading to increased chances of heart stroke. Exposure to extreme heat can also lead to sense of dizziness and fainting episodes. Those with heart problem should not exert too much during peak, summer and extreme heat. They should hydrate adequately and stay indoors. Doses of some drugs may be adjusted by the physician,” says the expert.

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