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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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Medication and Heat Stroke Risk

It's not just the medical conditions themselves that can raise the risk of heat-related illness. In many people, it's the medicine that is the problem. We've already seen that some of the medicines used to treat conditions, such as heart failure, can cause trouble.

However, medicines for entirely different conditions can aggravate the effects of heat. For instance, a person with an anxiety disorder might never suspect that he or she was at a higher risk of heat stroke. But if he or she is taking a tranquilizer to treat the condition, the body may not be able to cool itself efficiently. Drugs that can increase the risk of heat-related illness include:

  • Some psychotropic medicines, such as Haldol and Thorazine
  • Anticholinergics, such as Cystospaz
  • Beta-blockers, such as Toprol, Tenormin, or Inderal
  • Diuretics, such as Lasix or Maxzide

Not only prescription drugs cause problems -- herbs and other alternative medicines can be risky too.

Alcohol and street drugs also increase the dangers. For one thing, alcohol dehydrates you and can interfere with the body's cooling process. Alcohol and drugs also hinder people's ability to reason clearly, making them more likely to stay in the heat longer than they should.

There are many other factors too. People with low incomes living in cities are usually the hardest hit by heat waves. Older people are especially at risk, partially because they simply can't sense temperature as accurately as they used to, Knochel says.

Many of these risk factors -- medical, social, and economic -- can merge together. For instance, imagine an older woman who lives in a city on a fixed income, doesn't have air-conditioning (or is too worried about the costs to turn it on), and takes medications for heart disease and high blood pressure. She is at a much higher risk of developing heat stroke than the average person. But she -- and her family -- may have no idea.

Enjoying the Summer Safely

Although excess heat can certainly cause problems, we're not trying to dissuade people from getting outside and enjoying themselves during the summer. Getting outside and getting some physical activity is good for just about everybody -- with medical conditions or not.

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