Hot and humid weather can be dangerous for anyone, but the risk is greater for those with heart disease. Be prepared to educate your patients on how to prevent overstressing the heart while beating the dog days of summer.
Updated: Feb 11
Published Jun 3, 2019
The hot and humid "dog days of Summer" can cause heat stress in healthy people. For those with existing heart disease, typical Summer weather can be downright dangerous. Studies have shown heat and humidity are hard on the heart. Heart disease, especially heart failure and ventricular dysfunction, make it harder for the body to cool in Summer weather. According to the American Heart Association, a heat wave lasting just 2 days increases the likelihood of a premature heart-associated death.
The body sheds extra heat through the involuntary process of radiation and evaporation. This process cools the body but adds some stress to the heart. In individuals with heart disease, the stress can be significant.
Heat naturally moves from warm to cooler areas. If the air around us is cooler, our bodies use radiation to release heat into the air. This transfer will stop when air temperature reaches body temperature. The heart has to pump harder and faster to reroute blood flow to the skin for heat release.
Sweat cools the body through evaporation. Just one teaspoon of sweat can cool the body by 2 degrees a day with low humidity. Evaporation is less effective on humid days when the air is heavy with water vapor. This process of cooling places additional strain on the heart. Sweat pulls sodium, potassium and other minerals needed for water balance out of the body. To counter this loss, the body holds onto water by retaining fluid.
Healthy people most likely adjust to hot Summer days without missing a beat. However, those with heart disease may have difficulty coping with the added physical stress. The following factors may further contribute:
Congestive heart failure brings additional strain on hot days. Since the heart is weaker, the body has a harder time cooling. The risk for heat stroke, heat exhaustion and dehydration is greater with heart failure. Also, diuretics may increase the risk for dehydration and high sodium levels.
Patient education should include compliance with physician instructions for fluid intake during hot weather. Diuretics and fluid intake may need to be adjusted to compensate for increased sweating and water loss.
Nurses have a responsibility to educate heart patients on what to watch for during hot weather.
*May indicate heat stroke
Nurses are the constant across all areas of healthcare. Therefore, nurses carry the responsibility of educating heart patients on precautions to take on hot days. Patient education may include:
Patient education should also include tips on maintaining a cool environment.
Hot and humid weather can be dangerous for anyone, but the risk is greater for those with heart disease. Be prepared to educate your patients on how to prevent over-stressing the heart while beating the dog days of Summer.
Protect Your Heart
CDC Information Related to Extreme Heat
Heat is hard on the heart: Simple precautions can ease the strain
Timely and informative. Thanks for sharing.
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