Austin cardiologist speaks on extreme heat impact on heart health

It has been a brutally hot summer in Central Texas, and this week we are dealing with extreme heat. 

Doctors say when temperatures soar into the triple digits, more stress is put on the heart, causing an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. 

Dr. Vivek Goswami, a cardiologist with Heart Hospital of Austin and Austin Heart, joined FOX 7 Austin's Rebecca Thomas to discuss.

Rebecca Thomas: Dr. Goswami, when you go outside right now, I mean, your body just feels the heat. It's oppressive. What does the extreme heat due to the body, especially the heart?

Dr. Vivek Goswami: Yeah. So great question. You know, when excessive heat exceeds the ability of our body to decrease our bodies, internal heat, a lot of catastrophic cardiovascular events can occur. So when we talk about regulating heat, the body usually has two main mechanisms. So when the external temp is lower than our body temp, we can radiate that heat through our skin and regulator temps that way. The second mechanism has to do with evaporation, right? So when we sweat on dry days, that sweat can evaporate, and it'll pull heat from our body and decrease our body temps. The problem is, is when the ambient temps exceed our body temps, we're no longer effective at radiating that heat to decrease our body temps. And secondly, when temperatures are very humid and the weather is very humid, we no longer evaporate. That sweat. That sweat tends to stay on our skin, and it decreases the ability for our bodies to cool. This could lead to a series of potentially catastrophic cardiovascular events, and for that reason, excessive heat has long been associated with a significant increase in heart attack and stroke. I think many people equate excessively hot days to dehydration and heat exhaustion and heat stroke. They don't think about the fact that they can increase their chances of having a cardiovascular event.


Rebecca Thomas: Now, does this go for the average person, this increased risk or just those who have a history of heart disease?

Dr. Vivek Goswami: So as with many conditions, those who have preexisting cardiovascular disease, those with co-morbidities, elderly folks, people with generally less reserve are going to be the highest risk. It doesn't necessarily exclude individuals that are healthy at baseline, but clearly people that have underlying heart disease are going to be at highest risk. 

Rebecca Thomas: What do you advise people do to reduce their risk of heart attack or stroke during this heat wave or any time when we're dealing with such high heat

Dr. Vivek Goswami: Yeah, well, there's, you know, the common sense things. Obviously, we want to avoid going outside mid-afternoon and try to plan your outdoor activity in the early morning hours or in the evening. When it comes to hydration. Now, we do want to drink eight ounces of water for every 20 minutes. We're outside. If you know you're going to be outside, you want to pre hydrate, and you want to continue to drink even after you've come indoors. In regard to what we're hydrating with, we want to avoid things like caffeine and soda. We want to avoid things like alcohol because these are diuretics and can obviously worsen the dehydration effect. And you know, if patients are taking diuretics or water pills as part of their medications, you certainly want to take necessary precautions as well.