Warming tips for high blood pressure, heart failure and cardiac arrhythmias
In the coming week, temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius are expected in Germany. For people with chronic conditions, especially those with cardiovascular disease, heat can pose a health risk. Experts explain what affected people should pay attention to.
Professor Doctor Thomas Voigtländer is a cardiologist, intensive care physician and CEO of the German Heart Foundation. In a current article from the institution, the cardiologist gives information on what the elderly and people with cardiovascular diseases should pay particular attention to when temperatures are high, in view of the upcoming heat wave.
Heat wave expected in week 29
Southern Germany in particular would be affected by the heat wave in the 29th calendar week of 2022, but the thermometer can also climb to 33 degrees Celsius in northern Germany. What is dream vacation time for some can be a health hazard for people with heart disease.
Heat can harm your health
“Such extremely high temperatures can become a challenge, especially for the elderly and those who are already being treated for cardiovascular diseases such as heart failure or blood pressure problems,” confirms Prof. Dr. Voigtlander.
According to him, the heat can affect the dose of medicine, the amount of fluid and the salts in the blood (electrolytes) for certain groups of people. Those affected should therefore follow a few tips to get through the heat wave in good health.
As experts from the German Heart Foundation explain, heat can only be transported out of the body through the circulatory system with considerable effort. When heart disease is present, it also severely limits the performance of the body’s cooling system. This can be recognized by symptoms such as
Fatigue, dizziness, drop in blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, muscle cramps, in the worst case there is a risk of circulatory collapse.
“Affected persons can prevent such complications by discussing in good time with their treating doctor or cardiologist the special precautionary measures in the event of extreme summer heat, which can vary depending on the heart disease,” says Voigtländer.
Important heat precautions
According to doctors from the German Heart Foundation, it is particularly important to pay attention to how much you drink and your electrolyte balance. Some people may need medication dose adjustments.
This is especially true for people with high blood pressure and for people taking medications to conduct water (diuretics).
Sweat releases more heat when it is hot. During this process, however, the body loses fluids and electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium. These blood salts are important for heart function and blood pressure regulation.
Drinking enough is therefore extremely important to compensate for these losses. The German Heart Foundation therefore advises drinking one to two liters more fluid on particularly hot days than on normal days.
However, excessive fluid intake can also lead to deterioration of cardiac output in patients with heart failure. “Heart patients should therefore coordinate the amount they drink and the medications they take with their doctor,” Voigtländer points out.
Mineral water, herbal tea or diluted fruit juice are particularly suitable drinks when it is hot. Alcohol and drinks that are too cold should be avoided.
In case of heart failure, determine the right amount to drink by weighing
People with heart failure can use a scale to estimate how much they should drink. They should weigh themselves in the morning before breakfast and after going to the bathroom for the first time. At high temperatures, body weight should also be measured in the evening.
According to the German Heart Foundation, if the body weight has increased by more than 500 grams, the daily amount of fluid is too high. If body weight decreases despite fluid intake, the dose of diuretics should be reduced in consultation with a physician.
Measure blood pressure regularly
Heat can also raise or lower blood pressure. Regular blood pressure checks provide information about the body’s ability to cope with heat.
High temperatures put the body in a state of stress. “This is one of the reasons why patients with high blood pressure suffer particularly during hot weather,” Voigtländer points out.
But the reverse can also be the case, according to the expert: blood pressure can drop suddenly due to the heat and the dilating vessels, leading to fainting, dizziness or arrhythmias.
In some cases, blood pressure may drop so low that the dose of blood pressure medication needs to be adjusted. Those affected should therefore closely monitor their blood pressure by measuring it regularly so that they can react quickly if necessary. However, dose changes should always be clarified by a doctor.
Which medications are affected by heat?
According to the German Heart Foundation, it may be necessary to change the dosage of heart medications, especially during long periods of extreme heat. This concerns, for example, antihypertensive drugs such as beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, sartans and calcium antagonists.
Diuretics (water pills), which are often prescribed for heart failure, may also need adjusting to prevent these medications from drawing more fluid from the body when you sweat more.
“Cardiovascular patients should discuss with their doctor which medications to reduce and the duration of the heat,” advises Prof. Voigtländer.
What to consider if you have a tendency to thrombosis
Those prone to thrombosis should also note that heat and cold increase the blood’s ability to clot. Inflammatory processes in the vessels can thus be promoted.
“At high temperatures, blood viscosity increases due to fluid loss through sweating,” says Voigtländer, also of heart patients who take blood thinners.
Avoid physical exertion in hot weather
According to experts, physical exertion should be moved to the early morning hours or late evening. Those who are particularly affected by heat should, if possible, stay in cool rooms. (vb)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the specialized medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been verified by health professionals.
Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek
German Heart Foundation: Extreme Heat: Precautions for People with Heart Disease (Published: 7/13/2022), herzstiftung.deGerman Heart Foundation: Heart problems in heat: How to protect yourself! (Status: July 11, 2022), herzstiftung.de
This article contains general advice only and should not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment. It cannot substitute a visit to the doctor.