Heed these heart health tips in times of heat

The D.C. area is experiencing some steamy weather, with heat indexes that make it feel like a hundred degrees outside. In times of extreme heat, a cardiologist who practices in Northern Virginia has some tips to keep those with heart problems safe this summer.

“The heart is the engine for the body. And so when the body is overheated, when you’re at higher temperatures, the heart has to work much harder to keep the temperature in balance, as well as doing all the things that the body requires to work,” said Dr. Amey Kulkarni, a cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente.

Kulkarni is the chair of the Cardiovascular Institute at the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group.

The human body sheds heat in two ways — radiation and evaporation — both of which stress the heart, according to the Harvard Health Blog.

Radiation — when heat moves from warm areas to cooler ones — requires rerouting blood flow to make it go to the skin.

“This makes the heart beat faster and pump harder. On a hot day, it may circulate two to four times as much blood each minute as it does on a cool day,” the blog said.

The stress on the cardiovascular system during evaporation happens when sweat pulls heat from the body, pulling with it “sodium, potassium and other minerals needed for muscle contraction, nerve transmissions and water balance,” Harvard Health Blog said.

Patients who have had recent heart surgery or a heart procedure, such as stent, should be extra cautious in the heat. And it doesn’t take a lot of heat to make doctors worry.

“We usually say don’t do any exercise outside if it’s over about 85 degrees out,” Kulkarni said, specifically mentioning vigorous workouts, such as rapid walking, running or biking.

And it’s not only those who have had recent procedures that he worries about — this also includes those who have heart conditions but have not had reparative procedures or surgeries, for example those with congestive heart failure or a severe valve problem.

Kulkarni also has some advice for those taking heart medicine.

“Any medicine that reduces your blood pressure, in particular medicines like beta blockers, or ACE inhibitors are ones that can, sort of, blunt your body’s natural response to a lot of heat. And so we want to be careful with those,” he said.

Medicines that dilate your blood, such as nitrates, in combination with extreme heat can also be worrisome, Kulkarni said.

“And so if you take a nitroglycerin that you put under your tongue, or take a medicine, like Imdur, those are medicines that we also worry about because they dilate your blood vessels. And so in the heat, your blood vessels dilate, as well. So this sort of combination effect can be worrisome,” he said.

Here are some general tips to be safe during the heat:

  • Be attentive to your body and how you’re feeling. “Your body is always really good at signaling when something is amiss.”
  • Exercise in the morning or in the evening and avoid peak sun hours.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Hydrate.

“If you’re feeling more tired than usual, you’re noticing yourself huffing and puffing a little bit more or sweating, then make sure that you’re staying hydrated as you should take frequent breaks and avoid the peak portions of the sun exposure,” Kulkarni said. “And I think that if you follow the sort of general rules of thumb, you’ll do pretty well throughout the throughout the heat wave we’re having.”

WTOP’s Kristi King contributed to this report.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She has a master’s degree in interactive journalism from American University and a master’s degree in English Literature from The George Washington University.

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