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American Heart Association

High temps, hot temper may lead to heart problems

5 Minute Read

If somebody is prone to anger, you might say they are “hot-headed” or “hot under the collar.” As it turns out, there’s a grain of truth in those age-old expressions. Studies show there’s an uptick in aggression when the thermostat rises. And the rate of some violent crimes is higher near the equator. Soaring temps have even been linked to an increase in horn-honking – especially when the car windows are rolled down. Heat and anger, by themselves, can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. Which begs the question: How do higher temps and heated emotions together impact heart health?

“Physical stress added to mental stress is kind of a double whammy,”

Dr. Allen J. Taylor, the chairman of cardiology at MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute in Washington D.C.

The process of cooling down from heat can stress the heart all on its own, Taylor said, especially during hot and humid conditions when sweating is not as effective. “The heart works harder, blood pressure goes up and heart rate goes up,” he said. Excess sweating also can lead to abnormalities in electrolytes. “Your body chemistry can get disturbed, and that can also create some heart hazard.”  Sweating also can lead to dehydration, which makes the blood thicker and more prone to clotting. This can lead to heart attack and stroke. Add mental stress and the risk is even greater.  “Heat induces stress, and any psychological emotion – anger, anxiety, fear – can trigger the same things,” said Taylor, a clinical researcher who specializes in cardiovascular imaging and prevention. “If you have known heart disease, you have to be extremely cautious.”

That may be even more important in a world that’s warming as a result of climate change, said Dr. Lawrence Sinoway, director of the Penn Heart and Vascular Institute in Hershey, PA, and director of Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute.  He cited the spike in deaths during the 1995 Chicago heatwave as an example of the toll excess heat can take.  “It’s known that dramatic acute increases in heat in people with underlying heart disease are not well tolerated,” he said. “The number of extreme temperature changes is likely to increase as global warming continues, and I suspect that periods of time with very high temperatures and excess deaths is likely to increase.”  In other words, it’s important to stay cool, both literally and figuratively. When it’s hot outside, Sinoway urged people to stay well-hydrated and either remain in the air conditioning or use fans. Outdoor exercise, he said, should be done at sunset or sundown when it tends to be cooler. During the hottest part of the day, people should stay in climate-controlled environments.
Staying cool mentally is just as crucial. Sinoway recommended people who are experiencing mental stress take themselves out of the situation, reframe the negative emotion and take deep breaths.  “Know that you have a predilection to a hot temper and take that into consideration,” he said. “Try to relax and take the emotion out of the circumstance.”  According to Taylor, the risks from both high temperatures and intense anger is greatest when those conditions are frequent and inescapable.  In the right circumstances, heat actually may improve heart health. Regular sauna use is associated with a range of cardiovascular benefits, for example, and so-called hot yoga, which is done in a humid room heated to more than 100 degrees, may help lower blood pressure.  “It’s stress that you can’t control and can’t relieve, that’s the problem,” Taylor said. “You’ve got to find a way to get yourself out of those situations and to take control.”

Article provided by the American Heart Association

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