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Heart Disease Health Center

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Hot Summer Days: How to Stay Well in the Heat

By Janie McQueen
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by William Blahd, MD

It's so hot the early birds need oven mitts, as your Aunt Ida would say. But while everyone around you is running to find the A/C, you're on your way to get some sun. It's summertime, after all. What's a little heat?

You tick through your list. Icy water bottle? Check. Sunscreen with the highest SPF you can find? Check. Trusty, wide-brimmed hat? Check.

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Not so fast. Did you know super-cold drinks can make your stomach cramp? Or that other things, like how well you slept last night or what meds you're taking could affect how well your body adjusts to the heat? They also have a lot to do with whether you feel well or get sick in extreme temperatures.

If you're an outdoor-type, you might believe you know how to prepare for the heat. But it actually takes more thought and planning than you might think, says Chad Asplund, MD. He's director of athletic medicine at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA.

When you spend too much time in the sun, your internal body temperature goes up. That can lead to heat rash or heat exhaustion. It happens when your body is so hot it can't cool itself. You're at even more risk if you don't drink enough liquids or you're pregnant, overweight, elderly, very young, or have heart disease.

In extreme cases, you can get exertional heat stroke. This can cause your central nervous system to shut down and your internal organs to fail. It can be fatal.

But if you keep a cool head and use common sense when you're out in super-hot summer weather, you should be fine. Asplund offers the following tips to help you stay well in the heat.

Take Cover

A tank top and shorts might seem like the best choice, but many fabrics just trap warmth. Bare arms leave you open to sunburn and skin cancer. You're better off in a light-colored airy blouse or long-sleeved shirt that lets air flow through. You can also find clothing with built-in UV protection.

Athletes have regular checkups to make sure they'll be safe in the heat for long periods, Asplund says. But it's actually a good idea for anyone.  

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