Heatstroke is no joke. Despite the fact that all heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 658 people succumb to extreme heat each year.
Sudden death — or sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) — can be brought on by a number of different causes including congenital heart defects, cardiac arrhythmia, commotio cordis, hypovolemic shock, and even electrolyte imbalances brought on by hyperthermia (heat stroke).
Since we’re knee-deep in summer, we thought it was a good time to talk about heatstroke, its connection to SCA, and how to avoid it.
What Causes Heatstroke?
Heat-related illnesses are caused by exposure to too much sunlight and heat. When your body can’t cool itself adequately, you may start to feel over-hot, headachy, clammy, heavy, tired, dizzy, and nauseated. Your heart rate may increase as well. If this happens, it’s time to stop whatever it is you’re doing and find some water, shade, or air conditioning!
Exposure to excessive heat can directly or indirectly cause some illnesses, and can certainly exacerbate preexisting conditions, such as heart and respiratory disease.
How Can You Prevent Heatstroke and Heat-Related Illnesses?
The CDC notes that “People at greatest risk for heat-related illness include infants and children up to 4 years old; people 65 years of age and older; people who are overweight or have existing medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease; people who are socially isolated; and the poor.”
However, even young and seemingly healthy individuals can suffer from heat exhaustion or heat stroke if they’re engaging in strenuous physical activities during hot weather. Drinking alcohol, taking certain medications, or excessive exposure can put people at an even greater risk.
Basically, anything that causes dehydration and inhibits perspiration or otherwise impairs your body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature can put you at risk of heatstroke.
Here’s what you can do to stay cool:
- Stay loose: Wear comfortable, lightweight, and light-colored clothing.
- Put a lid on it: Protect your brain! Wear a hat or invest in a reflective umbrella.
- Avoidance is okay: When the temperatures start to soar, stay out of the sunshine.
- Exercise early: If you need to get a move on — and everyone should aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity each week — do it before 9:00 am or after 4:00 pm.
- Drink up: If you are exercising in the heat, drink plenty of electrolyte-enriched water and take frequent breaks.
- Get acclimated: If you work outside or you’re on a beach vacation, let your body acclimate to the heat before doing anything strenuous.
- Circulation is your friend: If you don’t have air conditioning, be sure to use fans to keep air flowing in your home.
- Slather on the sunscreen: Sunburn limits your body’s ability to keep itself cool. So even if it looks uncool, keep applying sunscreen.
- Be a good neighbor: Check-in on folks who might be at a higher risk for heat-related illnesses such as elderly, disabled, or house-bound individuals.
Why are Electrolytes so Important?
Calcium, sodium, and potassium are the most important electrolytes in your body. “Calcium and potassium have to be in balance—sitting on either side of cell membranes, ready to switch places—in order to cause muscles to contract or nerves to transmit impulses. Once calcium and potassium swap places and cause things to happen, sodium puts them back in their place for the next time. If there aren’t enough of one or two or all of these electrolytes, then the heart muscle cells can’t move, which means the heart won’t pump,” (VeryWell Health).
And here’s what the American Heart Association has to say about electrolytes: “Electrolyte abnormalities are commonly associated with cardiovascular emergencies. These abnormalities may cause or contribute to cardiac arrest and may hinder resuscitative efforts.”
Cardiac arrest brought on by heatstroke is 100% avoidable! Listen to your body, and before you head out into the sun, whip up a batch of homemade lemon-ginger electrolyte drink!
DISCLAIMER: Information and resources found on the cardiopartners.com and aed.com websites/blogs are intended to educate, inform, and motivate readers to make their health and wellness decisions after consulting with their healthcare provider. The authors are not healthcare providers. NO information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease or condition.