Certain Heart Medications Could Make High Temps More Dangerous—Here’s What Cardiologists Want You To Know

Photo: Getty Images/Vanessa Nunes
According to weather forecasts, global warming may further escalate heat wave intensity across the U.S. this summer, with major cities, including New York, Boston, and Chicago feeling the burn most. And since we're already seeing temperatures in the 90s coupled with heat-related dehydration, medical experts are warning about heart medications and heat—a study published in the Nature Cardiovascular Research Journal found that people taking certain heart medications were more susceptible to heat-related heart attacks.

While the risk of heart attack is 63-percent higher for people taking antiplatelets, beta-blockers can cause a 65-percent higher risk, with people taking both medications having the highest risk increase at 75 percent, according to the study. Beta-blockers and antiplatelets are some of the most commonly prescribed medications for people at risk of conditions like high blood pressure (hypertension), chest pain (angina), and cardiovascular diseases.

Experts In This Article

In fact, Wafin Momin, MD, a board-certified cardiovascular disease specialist and assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center (UT Health) in Houston, says heat-related hospitalizations are always something to worry about in the summer months.

Heart medications and heat—here's what to be aware of

"Blood pressure medications, such as beta-blockers and diuretics, can make people more vulnerable [to hot weather], while beta-blockers reduce the heart's activity, diuretics primarily remove fluid from your body," says Dr. Momin. "And if you're taking either of these—your risk of potentially developing low blood pressure and becoming even more dehydrated is high—as you will also be losing tremendous amounts of fluid through sweating."

Some heart medications like calcium channel blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), which remove sodium from the body, can also intensify how the body reacts to heat, causing feelings of sickness in extreme heat, per the American Heart Association (AHA).

According to Richard Becker, MD, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University Of Cincinnati College Of Medicine in Ohio, antihypertensive medications may adversely impact fluid retention and blood pressure when the ambient temperature is high. "And to add to the list: Diuretics, including furosemide or torsemide, and vasodilators like lisinopril or entresto are the most common examples," he says.

Why do high temperatures affect our heart and blood pressure, in particular?

At high temperatures and humidity, the heart pumps twice as much blood per minute than on a normal day, per the Mayo Clinic.

"Hot weather increases the body temperature, which forces your heart to pump harder and faster to send more blood to your skin as a way to radiate heat and regulate body temperature," says Dr. Momin. "Simply put: Your heart is working more to stay cooler during summer. If you're exposed to such elevated temperatures for a prolonged period, your body can lose significant amounts of fluid in the form of sweat, causing low blood pressure and dehydration."

Best ways to stay safe in the heat if you're on one of these meds

First things first, Dr. Momin wants to remind you that it's entirely safe to continue following the doctor's prescription for your heart medications. "You should not stop or change any of your medications without first speaking with the doctor," adds Dr. Becker.

Considering that temperatures above 70 degrees and humidity above 70 percent have the highest risks, Dr. Momin advises people on one of these medications to avoid the hottest parts of the day. If you must be out during the summer, choose the cooler parts of the day, such as the early morning or late evening, Dr Momin adds. "It is very important to take multiple breaks if you have to be out for long periods and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day," he says.

According to Dr. Becker, you should avoid physical activity during the heat of the day and only engage in brief periods of activity during the morning hours. "Alternate between water and electrolyte-containing fluids during your activity. And for clothing, wear light colors, fabrics that do not trap heat, loose-fitting garments, and cooling hats," he says.

Some signs of overheating to watch out for

Dr. Momin and Dr. Becker both recommend watching out for signs of overheating, such as excessive sweating, fatigue, dizziness, muscle cramps, rapid pulse, headache, fainting, and nausea.

If you experience any of these symptoms, the following guidelines from the AHA can help you stay safe:

  • drinking an adequate amount of water
  • moving to a cooler place
  • stop exercising and cool down immediately
  • re-hydrating by dousing yourself with cold water
  • seek medical attention if symptoms are severe

"As a general rule, be smart, don't miss a beat, but avoid the heat," says Dr. Becker.

Finally, remember that your heart health plays a significant role in your overall well-being. If you leave heart issues untreated, you can increase your risk for things like heart attack or stroke. And we know that your life expectancy after a heart attack can change, especially based on age.

This is why it's important to continue to take your heart medications. You can continue to take them and enjoy a great summer, while protecting yourself against the heat wave, and seeking urgent medical attention if the heat affects your health.

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