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Heart Disease Health Center

Hot Summer Days Can Make Sick People Sicker

Extreme heat can affect anyone, but you don't have to become a victim.
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Medical Conditions and Heat Stroke continued...

Signs of Heat-Related Illness

It's important to know the signs of trouble. Excessive heat can first cause heat exhaustion -- especially in people who are working or exercising outside. The symptoms include:

  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Heavy sweating
  • Muscle cramps
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Headaches
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea

If you have these symptoms, get out of the heat, drink water, juice or sports drinks (unless your doctor tells you otherwise), and get medical attention.

If it isn't treated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which is an emergency. Heat stroke also develops in people who aren't being physically active but are simply in a hot environment. The signs of heat stroke are

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Confusion or delirium
  • Warm, dry skin (because the body is no longer able to sweat)
  • Fever of greater than 104 degrees
  • Severe headaches
  • Seizure or muscle twitching
  • Unconsciousness
  • Death

Remember, heat stroke needs immediate attention. Call 911.

Other Dangers

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke aren't the only risks for people with pre-existing medical conditions. For entirely different reasons, some other conditions are exacerbated by the hot weather of the summer. Some examples are:

  • Asthma. Heat doesn't make asthma worse, at least not directly. But people with asthma need to be especially careful in summer months, since the air can be filled with all sorts of triggers. Allergens like molds and pollens drift in the wind. Irritants, such as environmental pollution, can hang in the air on hot, humid days and make life miserable for people with asthma. These environmental pollutants can cause plants and molds to boost pollen and spore production. The more pollen in the air the more likely it is to worsen allergic diseases such as asthma. In addition, some medications used to treat asthma may make it harder to sweat, and thus interfere with the body's natural cooling process.
  • Multiple Sclerosis. Many people with MS find their symptoms are aggravated by heat. In fact, one of the oldest tests for MS was to put a person suspected of having the disease in a hot bath. If neurological symptoms developed, the doctor made his diagnosis. Anyone with MS should take extra precautions to stay cool.
  • Lupus. About 70% of people with lupus find that exposure to sunlight can cause a flare-up of symptoms, including skin rashes, fatigue, and joint pain. So make sure to cover yourself with long pants and sleeves, wear a hat, and use sunscreen.

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