(by: Candice Fonke, RN, MBA, Chief Nursing Officer, Heart Hospital of Austin)
Ah! Summer is back in Austin, and it is time to get outside and enjoy the longer days. However, if you are a heart patient, you need to plan ahead so you can safely get the most out of your day. The first thing to think about is the timing of your activity―plan earlier in the day or in the evening when it is cooler. You should be most careful from noon to 4:00 p.m. when the sun is the most intense. In addition, it is critical to remember that even if you do not feel thirsty, you need to drink water, as thirst is a late sign of dehydration. Hey, maybe those countries that take a siesta during the afternoon hours have the right idea!
What are some other things that heart patients need to consider during these hot months? If you are taking a medicine like a beta blocker, ace inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and diuretics, it can make you more prone to heat-related illness. In addition, for patients with devices like a coronary stent or mechanical heart valve, excessive sweating can make you dehydrated, leading to potential problems with blood clotting which is a high risk for people with such devices. It is not uncommon during the summer months that diuretics and blood pressure medications may need to be adjusted due to excessive perspiration and water loss – this is most common if taking a high dose of diuretics. If you are a heart patient but are unsure if you are taking one or more of these medicines, talk with your pharmacist who can advise you.
If you are a diabetic patient with heart disease, you need to be especially careful during the summer months as you are more at risk for dehydration than others. Be sure to keep hydrated with sugar-free beverages (caffeine-free is best), and closely monitor your blood sugar, as it can change significantly due to excessive fluid loss through urination.
- Wear light colored, lightweight clothing that breathes (cotton) or other fabrics that wick away sweat and dry quickly.
- The feet perspire a lot during exercise – so make sure you wear open shoes such as sandals which have good ventilation. Also, consider buying socks made of fabric that wicks away sweat, keeping your tootsies cool.
- Apply sunscreen to protect your skin, and drink a glass of water before you go outside, during exercise, and again when you finish. Minimize caffeine and alcohol which both act as diuretics making you prone to dehydration. Also, take frequent rest breaks in the shade to allow your heart to have a brief respite.
- Be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related exhaustion which may include:
- Feeling dizzy or fainting
- Cold, moist skin, chills
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Heavy sweating
- Weak and fast pulse
- Nausea, vomiting, or both
- Muscle cramps
Lastly, have a wonderful, heart-healthy summer!