Postdate: 07 May 2018
On the relatively few summer days of the Netherlands, much time is spent living and eaten outdoors. When there are least 5 consecutive days of 25C, of which at least 3 days reach 30C or more, the term ‘heat wave’ even applies. How do you stop the summer heat from tormenting your heart?
Risk of overheating
Normally your body protects itself from overheating. Your blood vessels dilate to send more heat to the skin. This is for evaporation and radiation. The force of the heart increases together with the heart rate. Circulation can be 2-4 times greater. Precisely because of this larger expansion of the blood vessels, your blood pressure can decrease. This is certainly true if you don’t drink enough.
If your core temperature rises above 40C, there is a considerable risk of developing ‘heat stroke’. This can happen if outside temperatures are so high that normal heat radiation from the skin can no longer occur. You will then start to sweat even more to cool yourself down more through moisture droplets, especially if humidity increases as well. Moisture does not only remove heat from your body, but salt and potassium also. If you lose too much, you will notice this in the form of muscle cramps.
The effects of heat
In a recent study, the effect of extreme heat on firefighters was investigated. Researchers found that exposure to very high temperatures over a short period of only 20 minutes could lead to an increased risk of heart attacks. Interestingly, body temperatures did not even exceed 38.5C.
Health risks for your heart
During the problematic 2003 European heatwave, morbidity due to heart problems was 30% higher for people aged between 35-75 years of age. In addition, excess mortality was even 70%. That is certainly far from insignificant. Overweight people have a 3 ½ times higher risk of death due to overheating.
Even when you are in good health, you run health risks if you do not take counter measures. A heart that normally has no problems can be greatly overtaxed. The single most important thing you can do is to keep a close eye on yourself (and on others). Headaches and nausea can provide an early warning.
These symptoms demand action to be taken. They can be the precursors of worse symptoms, such as confusion combined with a weak and rapid pulse and hot, dry and flushed skin. More about this follows in the next blog.