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Heat Wave Poses Extra Risk to Patients on Certain Medications

A Senior Wipes His Forehead While Out in the Hot Summer Sun

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With a summer heat wave impacting many Southern and Central states, the threat of heat-related illness already looms over countless residents. But for patients required to take certain medications for health issues, the risk of suffering from heat stroke or heat exhaustion goes up exponentially.

What are the medications that do not mix well with extreme heat? Keep reading to find out about common interactions, along with how to stay safe and healthy during a heat wave.

Medications That Can Raise Risk of Heat-Related Illness

Some medications used to treat common conditions such as allergies, high blood pressure and mental health conditions can make it more difficult to stay hydrated or effectively cool your body in the heat. They can include the following types of medications:

ACE Inhibitors

Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, also called ACE inhibitors are commonly used to treat high blood pressure. They can increase the risk of fainting and falling, especially in extreme heat. They also suppress the feeling of thirst, making it hard to know when you need to drink water.

Beta Blockers

Another type of blood pressure medication, beta blockers can also increase the risk of fainting and falls. They can also decrease sweat output, which makes it harder for your body to cool down.

Calcium Channel Blockers

These are also medications used to control blood pressure. They can cause electrolyte imbalances — increasing the danger of a duplicate effect from severe heat. An electrolyte imbalance can include having too much or too little calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphate, potassium or sodium. Depending on your electrolyte imbalance, symptoms may include fatigue, irregular heartbeat, discolored urine, diarrhea, constipation, nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, confusion, headaches and irritability. Seek help immediately if you experience these symptoms in the heat.

Antidepressants

Certain antidepressants, such as Zoloft, Prozac and Lexapro, commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, can increase sweating and repress thirst. Much like frequent urination, this combination of more liquid output and less intake can lead to dehydration during heat waves.

Antipsychotic Medications

Antipsychotic medications such as Haldol, Zyprexa and Risperdal also impact your ability to sweat. Your body temperature is more likely to increase when you’re on these medications.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines used to treat allergies, such as Benadryl, can have a dehydrating effect on your body by decreasing sweat and impairing temperature regulation. Consider trying some of these natural remedies for mild allergies if possible. If you must use antihistamines for more severe allergies/allergic reactions, stay hydrated and be careful in the heat.

Stimulants

Stimulants, such as amphetamines and other medications used to treat ADHD, may increase the risk of heat-related illnesses by interacting with the central nervous system and brain to increase body temperature.

Tips to Stay Safe During a Heat Wave

If your medications place you at higher risk of developing heat-related illness, there are steps you can take to stay cool, including:

Know the Signs of Heat-Related Illness

Watch out for heavy sweating, cold, pale or clammy skin, headaches, nausea or vomiting. You might experience muscle cramps and feel dizzy or exhausted.

In more serious cases, overheating can lead to heat stroke, which happens when your body temperature hits 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Your skin might look different and feel red, hot, dry or damp. Heat stroke can also cause confusion or a persistent headache and may even lead to loss of consciousness. If you or someone you know exhibits these signs, don’t wait. Seek emergency medical care immediately.

Stay Hydrated

Aim to drink one ounce of water for every ten pounds of body weight. It’s best to drink before, during and after strenuous exercises such as running, playing sports or swimming. Make a point to choose fresh fruit and vegetables as snacks — such as watermelon, celery and pineapple — that contain lots of water.

When you’re spending time in the sun and heat, you should also avoid drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol, as these dehydrate your body.

Keep Water on Hand

Pack water bottles to bring with you, and consider keeping them by the door where they’re easy for everyone to grab. Take frequent water breaks.

Try to go out before and after the sun’s peak hours, between 10 am and 2 pm.

Recognize the Signs of Dehydration

Mild dehydration can cause irritability, headache and fatigue. However, severe dehydration can be a medical emergency. Learning to recognize the signs of severe dehydration can be lifesaving. They are:

  • Dark urine
  • Disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Dry lips and mouth
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Slow reaction time

If you have signs of severe dehydration or notice someone else with signs, get help immediately. For signs of mild dehydration, find shade or an indoor location to cool off and sip some water slowly. Take it easy and continue to drink water until you feel better.

Have a Plan in Place

Just as you apply sunscreen to prevent sunburn, you can avoid dehydration and heat-related illness by taking steps to keep your fluids up. More ideas include:

  • Avoid too much caffeine and alcohol
  • Carry a water bottle
  • Drink between meals, not just during meals
  • Drink lots of fluids (especially water)
  • Eat water-rich foods like watermelon and smoothies
  • Give coconut water a try
  • Hydrate first thing in the morning

Be Prepared and Act Quickly

Heat-related illness is serious and can quickly escalate to a medical emergency. Treatment in the early stages can prevent serious complications. If you or a loved one show signs of heat-related illness, call 911 immediately for prompt action.

Learn more about AdventHealth emergency care and find the nearest location.

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