August 18, 2023

Protect your heart when temperatures soar

Excessive heat and pollution can increase your risk of experiencing dangerous cardiac events.

Patients with heart conditions should take extra precautions to stay cool during days with excessive heat and poor air quality.

Southern California hit global headlines recently with a scorching heat wave that closed in on record temperatures of almost 130 degrees. Heat waves and the poor air quality they cause can be harmful to your health in many ways, including causing heat-related illnesses. However, you may not know that soaring temperatures and pollution can cause cardiovascular issues and even death.

Be proactive to protect your heart during heat waves

Columbus Batiste, MD, regional chief of cardiology for Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, says with every 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature (or about 32 degrees Fahrenheit), there's a 4% rise in cardiovascular deaths. When combined with pollution, the risk of cardiovascular death increases by 7% or even 13% in areas with the highest levels of pollution. 

“Everyone should be careful during intense heat waves, especially those who are 65 and older with chronic illnesses. Be proactive about your health and take precautions to protect your heart during times of intense heat,” said Dr. Batiste. 

He recommends that patients 65 and older and patients with heart conditions talk to their doctor about their risks during heat waves. Certain medications commonly taken for heart conditions, including water pills and blood pressure medications, can dehydrate you or affect your ability to sweat and regulate your body temperature. 

Another proactive step you can take is to adopt a plant-based diet, which is rich in fruit and vegetables that are high in water content to help keep you hydrated.

“Know your risk level before going outside and braving the heat. Taking simple steps like checking the weather and air quality alerts can go a long way toward protecting your heart and your health,” said Dr. Batiste. 

Stepping into the heat? Listen to your body 

If you have to brave extreme heat, Dr. Batiste recommends paying close attention to your body’s needs.

“Ask yourself — are you sweating more than normal? Do you have chest pain or shortness of breath? If you’re experiencing symptoms associated with heart disease, you need to take immediate action to cool yourself down,” said Dr. Batiste.

He recommends finding a cool space, such as an air-conditioned room. You can also remove loose clothing, place a cool towel on your head, and drink plenty of water. Remember to stay informed, stay hydrated, and stay cool to protect your heart this summer.