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In the northern hemisphere, the summer months are the hottest of the year. Who knows what this summer will be like, but if the most recent are any indication, parts of the country could certainly see triple digits again.
Scientists are worried about the increasing number of “extreme heat events” and the major health risks they pose to people living in intensely hot environments like the southwestern U.S. states.
Spending a lot of time in the sun and heat can cause your body to overheat and lead to sunburn, dehydration and life-threatening conditions like heatstroke.
But one thing you may not be aware of is the impact heat can have on pre-existing health problems. Here are five medical conditions that can be made worse by exposure to too much heat…
While many people experience a flare-up of their arthritis in cold and rainy weather, others see their symptoms increase in hot temperatures. One theory as to why this occurs includes changes in barometric pressure, which can cause joint stiffness, swelling and pain.
Also, dehydration caused by excessive heat can reduce the lubrication in your joints, increasing pain and inflammation.
If you have an autoimmune disorder like multiple sclerosis (MS) or lupus, heat exposure may cause your symptoms to flare up.
For instance, even small increases in core body temperature can worsen MS symptoms such as vision problems, weakness, pain and confusion. The effect of heat on MS is common enough that experts have named it the Uhthoff phenomenon. Once a person with MS cools down, the symptoms typically decrease in severity or possibly cease, at least temporarily.
Lupus flares can be triggered by extreme heat or exposure to UVA and UVB rays from the sun. Both of these factors decrease the clearance of dead skin cells, promoting the body’s immune response.
Your body works to get rid of excess heat by rerouting blood flow to the skin, so your heart is forced to pump harder whenever you’re in hot conditions. In fact, your heart may circulate two to four times as much blood in the summer as it does during cooler seasons.
In short, excessive heat puts a huge strain on your heart, which could quickly become life-threatening if you already have heart disease. Also, if you have atherosclerosis, your blood flow may be limited, which makes it more difficult for your heart to circulate blood when you’re overly hot.
If that wasn’t bad enough, some medications used to treat heart disease, like diuretics and beta-blockers, remove fluid from the body, increasing your risk of dehydration in extreme heat. Other drugs may interfere with heat regulation by blocking sweating, slowing the heartbeat or causing photosensitivity, a negative skin reaction to sunlight.
Did you know heat makes you more susceptible to headaches? According to a Harvard study, your chances of a headache increase by 8 percent with every 9-degree increase in temperature.
Migraine is the most common type of headache that occurs during the hot months of summer. Exposure to a hot environment makes the blood vessels in your head expand, which can lead to the throbbing pain of a migraine.
Dehydration because of excessive sweating can also trigger migraine. Oddly enough, so can overcompensation by drinking too much water. Try to find a happy medium.
Excessive heat can aggravate certain respiratory conditions. Harmful air pollutants tend to build up when the heat and humidity rise and this can exacerbate breathing problems caused by asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and allergies. Pollen also tends to be high in the summer, which is another trigger for respiratory conditions.
Tips to protect yourself from the heat
The easiest way to avoid hot temperatures is to stay indoors where there’s air conditioning. This is especially important between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun and heat are at their strongest.
If you absolutely have to be outside, stick to shady areas as much as possible and take frequent breaks if you’re being active. And if you don’t have access to air conditioning or a fan, using cold compresses or ice on your forehead and neck, or taking a cool shower or bath, can help lower your body temperature.
You can also eat foods that help your body produce the nitric oxide it needs to increase blood flow to the skin to help you cool faster. Beets or beetroot juice is an excellent choice.
If you suffer from arthritis or an autoimmune disease, light activity like walking is important for managing your symptoms. But that can be difficult to manage when the mercury rises. Try to time your outdoor activities for early in the morning or close to sunset, when the temperatures aren’t so extreme.
One of the most important ways you can protect your health in hot weather is to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty. And don’t forget about electrolytes. Sweating causes you to lose both water and salt, so it might be a good idea to alternate water with sports drinks like Gatorade. If you enjoy milk, you may like to know it’s an excellent choice for rehydration, beating out sports drinks.
Be sure to limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine, since they’re diuretics and can lead to further dehydration.
Editor’s note: There are numerous safe and natural ways to decrease your risk of blood clots including the 25-cent vitamin, the nutrient that acts as a natural blood thinner and the powerful herb that helps clear plaque. To discover these and more, click here for Hushed Up Natural Heart Cures and Common Misconceptions of Popular Heart Treatments!
How the summer heat can affect your health—and ways to stay safe — The Checkup By SingleCare
The Effects of Heat on Your Heart — Tenet Health
5 ways you can get rid of that annoying summer headache — India Today
Managing Arthritis During the Summer — Carolina Arthritis