Can Summer Heat Raise Your Risk of Heart Attack?
Summer is the time to go to the beach, tend the garden, or have a picnic in the park. But the hot weather this time of year has a downside. If you aren’t careful, it could set you up for a heart attack or stroke. That’s especially important if you already have heart attack risk factors like diabetes or high cholesterol to start with.
Now a new study reports that the problem could be getting worse because global temperatures are rising. Published in the European Heart Journal, the study looked at more than 27,000 heart attack patients between 1987 and 2014.
Researchers matched up patients’ heart attacks with weather information on the day of the attack. They found that more heat-related heart attacks happened in the more recent years of the study—from 2001 to 2014. That’s when average temperatures were higher. Very high heat can lower blood pressure, causing a person’s heart to beat faster and putting them at risk for a heart attack.
Other research has shown other ways that climate affects heart health. For example, big changes in temperature during the day can cause heart attacks to spike, too. This happens when the highest and lowest temperatures of the day are very far apart.
A 2018 study of more than 30,000 patients in 45 Michigan hospitals showed that there were more heart attacks when the difference between the day’s highest and lowest temperatures was very high. The researchers figured this out by matching hospital records with weather records in each hospital’s zip code.
Heart attack risk increased about 5% for every 9 degrees (Fahrenheit) of temperature change. Swings of more than 45 degrees were associated with more heart attacks than smaller changes in temperature.
Unfortunately there’s not much you can do to control when the heat rises or when the temperature swings widely during the day. But you can limit your time outside on steamy summer days and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
Here are other ways to lower your heart risk and stay safe this summer.
• Be sure to take any medications you are prescribed for heart risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes. You’re more likely to have a heart attack if you have these conditions.
• Lose excess weight. Even a little bit helps!
• Exercise every day or almost every day. A 30-minute walk is all you need. If it’s very hot, walk in a mall or other air-conditioned space.
• Eat well. Try to eat a diet that has plenty of fruits, vegetables, and other high-fiber foods. Eat lean types of protein like chicken, fish, and turkey most of the time. Include “good” fats like olive oil, along with nuts and seeds. And limit sweets and salt in your diet.
• Stop smoking.
• Lower your stress by spending time with friends, exercising, meditating, or doing yoga.
• Consider special tests that tell you and your doctor about heart risks you may not know about.
You can’t always beat the heat, but with a little effort you can keep your heart healthy—any time of the year!