With summer, we all enjoy the warmer weather and returning to our favorite outdoor activities. But as activity and temperatures rise, those coping with cardiac issues should be vigilant and observant. Studies show that seasonality, such as rising temperatures, influenced nearly every type of cardiovascular disease1. Experts suggest that anticipating how the changing seasons may affect loved ones coping with a cardiac issue will help us avoid the risk of complications2. Understanding how weather can affect us, and what symptoms to watch for is all part of caring for CHF as summer approaches.

We all know that CHF, or congestive heart failure, is one of the conditions that is more sensitive to increases in temperature or activity. Awareness of weather changes on those coping with cardiac issues may help providers improve treatment by alerting them to take preventive measures to counter the exacerbation of cardiac symptoms2. If that awareness helps your doctor, it will certainly help family caregivers.

It’s important that we observe our loved ones coping with CHF carefully this summer. Here are a few ways summer activities may increase CHF symptoms. Being more aware will help as we are caring for CHF as summer approaches.

1 – Increased Physical Exertion: Activities like gardening or outdoor exercise often involve increased physical exertion compared to winter activities. This sudden increase in physical activity can put additional strain on the heart, especially for those of us that have underlying heart conditions.

2 – Heat Stress: As temperatures rise, the body has to work harder to maintain a normal internal temperature. Engaging in physical activities outdoors can lead to heat stress, which in turn can put extra strain on the heart. Heat stress can lead to dehydration and changes in blood pressure, both of which can bring on cardiac symptoms.

3 – Pollen Allergies: Many people suffer from seasonal allergies in the spring and summer due to increased pollen levels. Allergic reactions can trigger inflammation and narrowing of the airways, making it harder to breathe. For those of us with heart conditions, this can strain the heart as it works harder to supply oxygen to the body.

4 – Electrolyte Imbalance: Physical activities can lead to electrolyte imbalances if we do not drink enough and lose electrolytes through sweat. Electrolytes such as potassium and sodium are crucial for maintaining proper heart function. Imbalances in our electrolytes can disrupt the heart’s electrical signals and increase the risk of cardiac symptoms.

5 – Overexertion: Some of us may overexert ourselves while participating in summer activities, especially after a period of reduced physical activity during the winter months. Overexertion can lead to sudden increases in heart rate and blood pressure, potentially triggering cardiac symptoms such as chest pain or palpitations.

6 – Stress: The summer months can also bring about stress for some. Stress activates the body’s “fight or flight” response, releasing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones can increase heart rate and blood pressure, potentially triggering cardiac symptoms, especially in those of us with underlying heart conditions.

As we observe our loved ones this summer, here are a few ways we can help protect them as temperatures rise3.

1 – Monitor weather forecasts for heat advisories and stay inside on those days. If home is too hot, check with your town or health department for cooling centers and other options to help you stay cool. If you venture outside, evening and early morning are often the coolest times. Rest in the shade whenever possible.

2 – When outside, drink water regularly. Set a timer to remind you. Never wait until you’re thirsty to drink. If you have heart failure, ask your doctor how much fluid you should drink daily, since fluids can build up and cause swelling. If you take diuretics, ask how much you should drink during hot weather.

3 – Avoid soda or fruit juice and limit alcohol. Soda and fruit juice may slow the passage of water from the digestive system to the bloodstream. While research is limited, some studies have found that excessive alcohol intake may raise the risk for heat stroke during hot weather.

4 – Protect your skin. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool down and increases dehydration. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, wraparound sunglasses, and lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Also, use a SPF-30 or higher sunscreen to cover any exposed skin. Apply 30 minutes before going out and reapply every hour.

Be aware that some Medications commonly prescribed to CHF patients such as beta blockers and diuretics are known to compromise our ability to cope with the rising heat4. Here are a few key things to watch for. These signs and symptoms can vary widely and not everyone will experience all of them.

1 – Chest Pain or Discomfort: This is one of the most common symptoms of a heart problem. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center or left side of the chest.

2 – Shortness of Breath: Difficulty breathing, especially during exertion or while lying down, can be a sign of heart failure or other cardiac issues.

3 – Fatigue: Unexplained fatigue or weakness, especially if it’s persistent and not relieved by rest, could indicate heart trouble.

4 – Palpitations: Irregular heartbeats, skipped beats, or a rapid heartbeat can signal an arrhythmia or other heart rhythm disorder.

5 – Dizziness or Lightheadedness: Feeling faint, dizzy, or lightheaded, especially when standing up quickly, may indicate a drop in blood pressure or inadequate blood flow to the brain due to heart problems.

6 – Swelling: Edema, or swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, or abdomen, can be a sign of heart failure or other cardiac issues.

7 – Nausea or Indigestion: Persistent nausea, indigestion, or abdominal discomfort, particularly if it’s accompanied by chest discomfort, can be a symptom of a heart attack.

8 – Sweating: Unexplained sweating, especially cold sweats, can be a symptom of a heart attack.

9 – Jaw, Neck, or Shoulder Pain: Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, or upper back can be a symptom of angina or a heart attack, particularly in women.

10 – Irregular Pulse: Physicians should check for an irregular pulse during physical exams. This can be a sign of underlying heart rhythm abnormalities.

11 – High Blood Pressure: Hypertension is a risk factor for various cardiac problems, including heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.

12 – Family History: A family history of heart disease or sudden cardiac death can alert us that we warrant closer monitoring.

13 – Age and Gender: Heart disease can affect people of all ages and genders. The risk is higher for those of an advanced age and for men.

Caring for CHF as summer approaches is important. If you are a family caregiver and have questions about the management of CHF and how to improve peace of mind and quality of life, Roze Room can help. Learn more about how we can offer an extra layer of support to those living with advanced CHF here.

1 – Stewart S., Keates A.K., Redfern A., McMurray J.J.V. Seasonal variations in cardiovascular disease. Nat. Rev. Cardiol. 2017;14:654–664. doi: 10.1038/nrcardio.2017.76.
2 – National library of medicine article PMC9099623
3 – Harvard Health Publishing 2022 , Heart-problems-and-the-heat-what-to-know-and-do
4 – Kaiser Permanente, as-temperatures-rise-so-does-the-risk-of-heart-problems – August 15, 2023