Robert J. Luchi, M.D.
Those lazy days of summer also mean days of blistering heat. As the temperatures rise, so does the risk of heat stress. Heat stress, which can lead to heat exhaustion, heart failure and strokes, is particularly dangerous for people 65 years of age and older.
Older citizens are more vulnerable than younger individuals because they do not adjust as well to the heat, they perspire less, and they are more likely to have health problems that require medicines that work against the body's natural thermometer. A sudden or prolonged increase in temperatures can place a strain on the heart and blood vessels before the body can acclimate itself.
When the temperatures begin to creep up, take immediate action.
The following tips can help you beat the heat:
- Keep cool. Air conditioning can be a lifesaver, especially if you have heart disease. If you don't have air conditioning, head to a cool shopping center, senior center, library, movies theater, or place of worship.
- Cool baths or showers can provide relief. Ice bags and wet towels are also helpful.
- Beware of dehydration; drink plenty of water even if you're not thirsty.
- Curtail physical activity during extremely hot weather. Activity adds to heart strain.
- Avoid hearty meals and alcohol. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, causing your body to lose water.
- Limit salt use.
- Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing.
Don't forget to wear a hat or carry an umbrella to protect your head and neck when you are outdoors. Take the heat seriously. Dizziness, rapid heartbeat, diarrhea, nausea, headache, chest pain, mental changes or breathing problems are warning signs that you should seek immediate medical attention.