Managing heart failure in the heat: 6 steps to help make things easier

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Temperatures are soaring across Canada, and while we welcome the warmer days, it’s not always easy living with heart failure in high levels of heat and humidity. In fact, these conditions can make things incredibly dangerous for people with cardiovascular health problems. At present, there are approximately 600,000 Canadians living with heart failure, as reported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

“Your body shouldn’t get too hot (or too cold). If your temperature rises too far, the proteins that build your body and run virtually all of its chemical processes can stop working,” as stated in 2011 Harvard Health blog post titled: Heat is hard on the heart; simple precautions can ease the strain.

When you get too hot, your body tries to get rid of extra heat through radiation and evaporation, both of which stress your heart. Additionally, the rate of bodily "heat gain" is more than the rate of "heat loss" in hot environments, as reported by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety. For most healthy people, dealing with these changes is manageable, but for those with heart failure, or those on the verge of it, hot, humid weather can be especially hard.

According to Patrick J. Skerrett, former executive editor at Harvard Health, the extra work that heat brings for the heart, “compounded by the loss of sodium, potassium, and the internal flood of stress hormones, can push some people into trouble.” For heart failure patients, this can be enough to cause “dizziness or falls” due to the “combination of increased blood flow to the skin and dehydration” which can drop blood pressure significantly lower.

In hot and humid workplaces, the “cooling of the body due to sweat evaporation is limited because the air cannot accept more moisture,” as noted by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t be exposed to heat or that you’ll never be able to go on a vacation in the sun again, rather, you can make some small changes to avoid any complications or “heat stroke” due to hot weather. To help you, we’ve compiled a list of six tips for managing heart failure in the heat.

Wear lighter clothing

Make sure you’re as comfortable as you can be when it comes to dressing for hot and humid weather – even if you’re not spending a lot of time outside. Loose, light, breathable clothing will help you feel more at ease and wearing a hat while outdoors can also help.

Reduce your physical activity

Take it easier when exercising in warmer weather and avoid putting any extra strain on your body. Early in the morning or later in the evening are often better times to exercise outside when the temperatures are not at peak.

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Manage your fluid intake

The Heart and Stroke Foundation states that at least half of a heart failure patient’s daily fluid intake should be water. On hot days, you may want to increase your fluid intake to reduce your chances of overheating. If you’re on a fluid restriction, diuretics, or have bowel problems, this could make staying hydrated more difficult. Try freezing a 500 ml bottle of water overnight and sipping on it throughout the day if you have to limit fluids (DB Roberts, Pumping Marvelous). Caffeine-based drinks act as a diuretic so it’s best to try avoiding them.

Stay cool

One of the best ways to beat the heat is by breathing in chilled air. You can do this by spending time in the shade, taking a cool shower or bath, putting a wet cloth or ice pack under your arm, or setting your air conditioning to a cool mode if you have one. Spending time indoors and closing windows and blinds at home on hot days can also help.

Eat lighter meals

Avoid overloading your stomach in the heat by eating lighter meals such as salads, cold soups, and fruits. These options give you extra fluid while helping to satisfy your hunger. If, however, you’re on a fluid restriction, you could try sucking on ice cubes or frozen grapes, or perhaps using a mini water spray bottle.

Use caution with spa facilities

The use of spa facilities such as baths, saunas, jacuzzis, and steam rooms, is generally not recommended for heart patients. In hot weather it’s especially important not to expose yourself to sudden temperature changes between hot and cold pools. Always make sure to speak to your doctor before you use any such spa facilities.

Heat exhaustion symptoms include nausea or irritability, dizziness, muscle cramps, feeling faint, headaches, fatigue, thirst, heavy sweating, and a high body temperature, as outlined by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety.

It’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.
 

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