As temperatures soar around the country, so does the risk of heart problems, particularly for baby boomers who don't, or won't, let up when the mercury rises.
The combination of high heat and humidity is plaguing many parts of the US right now, making many people uncomfortable but presenting a life-threatening risk to those with heart problems.
The problem is particularly worrisome for boomers, many of whom may not even know they have heart disease.
The 77 million adults in the 43-61 age bracket include parents who run around with their kids, vacationers taking on super-human feats, outdoor laborers exposed to hot, dry conditions, and, of course, exercise zealots who think it's good to push themselves by running, biking and hiking during the hottest weather."It's easy to experience heat exhaustion or heat stroke doing simple, everyday activities, so it's important to be extra careful during extreme heat," said Robin Trupp, president of the American Association of Heart Failure Nurses. "While most of us know not to overexert during hot spells, you don't have to run a marathon to become ill, especially those with heart conditions."
The heat index, based on a combination of temperature and humidity, is expected to peak above 105 in many parts of the US this week.
Ben Miller, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in St. Louis, said heat is the "No. 1 killer" in weather, even greater than tornados or hurricanes. "We've gone all year without a serious heat wave so we want people to be aware of what to do to keep themselves safe," he told the AP. "It's just that time of year."
How it Works
As most of us know, the human body works best at 98.6 degrees. If the body's temperature rises even a couple of degrees, it tries to cool itself with sweat and dilating blood vessels. As a result, the heart beats faster and blood pressure falls.
"It might reach dangerous, even deadly, levels," said Trupp. "As a rule, those with heart disease are sensitive to extremes in temperatures due to the challenges placed on the heart."
Medications can complicate the situation, especially water pills designed to reduce fluid retention, the group warned. Those pills may leave people dehydrated in hot weather. But, unlike most members of the public, people on those medications should refrain from drinking large amounts of water because that can add stress on the heart.
Beta-blockers can prevent the heart from beating rapidly, thereby limiting the ability of the body to cool itself.
The association recommends that people with heart problems should remain inside during the hottest parts of the day, try to stay in air conditioned areas, limit activity, wear loose clothing, and avoid caffeine and alcohol.
It's also good to know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which are two different things. Heat exhaustion can be spotted with heavy sweat, muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, headaches and/or fainting.
Heat stroke, a more serious condition, occurs when the body can no longer regulate its temperature. It can bring temperatures over 103, red skin, rapid pulse, dizziness, nausea, confusion and/or a throbbing headache. The temperature can rise to 106 in minutes, and heatstroke victims can die or suffer permanent disability without treatment.
People with such symptoms should get out of the sun and, if possible, be immersed in cool water. But, the association said, they shouldn't drink fluids.