Hot weather increases the risk of heart attacks.  This article looks at the research and tells what you can do to prevent heart disease.


by Dr. Anjali Dewan

It has been found through a number of researches that hot weather not only increases the risk of heart attacks in people with risk factors for heart disease but also heat related disorders such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The risk increases when the weather is hot and humid, which makes people sweat all the more. Heart patients who have been prescribed medicines to lower heart attack risk, to rid the body of excess water and to treat congestive heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms and chest pain should stay in cool environment as far as possible and ensure that they drink up to eight glasses of water a day. People over 65 years of age are at higher risk as their body tends to retain less water.

The first indications of dehydration observed are heat cramps, which may be followed by heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The body tries to lose heat through increased sweating and too much sweating leads to dehydration, which reduces the volume of blood. This makes the heart pump harder to circulate the reduced amount of blood around the body, which can induce a heart attack. Dehydration also results in thickening of the blood and enhances the proneness to clotting. People who have coronary stents implanted or have had valve replacement should have plenty of fluids to avoid clotting around the stent or the valve. Fluids, however does not mean cool beer and alcohol. Alcohol can cause dehydration, so it is advisable to consume lemonade with salt and sugar, water and sports drinks that have vital salts.

The first indication of heat stress is heat cramps, with symptoms of muscle spasm in the legs and abdomen. This is generally accompanied with excessive sweating. Drinking fluids and massaging the muscle in spasm relieves the pain. This is followed by heat exhaustion in which the person starts to sweat, feel dizzy, develop a rapid pulse, experience a throbbing pressure in the head, get a flushed appearance or experiences nausea. If the person is not moved to a cool place and given liquids to counter dehydration, this condition can rapidly progress to a heat stroke. The symptoms consist of skin becoming warm and dry with complete absence of sweating or a rapid drop in the blood pressure, confusion or unconsciousness.

Early symptoms of heat injury may vary with people, so steps should be taken to lower the body temperature at the first signs of headache, dizziness, faintness, nausea, cramps or increased palpitations. Feeling thirsty is a delayed response to dehydration, so one should make sure that that one has adequate water before stepping out in the heat. According to American Heart Association, people with heart disease and elderly people should be checked on at least twice a day during a heat wave and observed closely for signs of heat stress. They should stay in a cool place as far as possible, drink water before stepping out in the heat and getting their prescription for medicines adjusted to suit the extreme temperature in the summer months.

Statistics present a dismal picture in India. About 3 million people die of heart disease and stroke every year. 30% of all deaths are caused by heart disease and stroke. 118 million have hypertension which will double to 213 million by 2025. About 10 % 0f people over 20 years of age in urban India have heart disease.

Steps to lower heart disease:

Genetics play a very important role in development of cardiovascular diseases but there a number of risk factors which can be modified. With a little effort, one can eliminate or control them. Certain strategies can be used to minimize heart risk:

  • Stop smoking: The cardiovascular benefits begin the moment a person quits smoking. The risk of heart attacks, stroke, lung diseases and cancers gets lowered with each passing day.

  • Exercise: The more one exercises, the better it is but the minimum amount should be equivalent to brisk walking for 30 minutes four to five times a week or two and a half hours every week. People, who do not have time for structured exercise, should stay physically active by walking around the house, using the stairs and gardening.

  • Control Diabetes mellitus: As many as 80% of people with diabetes can develop cardiovascular diseases. This metabolic disorder raises the chances of heart problems by roughly twice as much for women as for men. Type I Diabetes can be controlled with insulin while Type 2 or Adult onset Diabetes mellitus can be controlled through changes in the dietary pattern and exercise.

  • Maintain a healthy weight: One of the major causes of heart disorders is obesity which leads to diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, each of which boosts the risk of heart disease. Our B.M.I (Body Mass Index) should be below 23. The best way to lose weight is to eat smaller amounts of food after periodic intervals. One should avoid second helpings and desserts.

  • Control hypertension: Exercise and a healthy diet with low salt intake can help control hypertension. Blood pressure lowering medicines also help.

  • Eat healthy foods: Low fat, low sugar and low salt diet is what heart needs. According to nutritionists worldwide, a right nutritious diet for healthy heart is the one that keeps blood pressure under check and controls the factors like high cholesterol, saturated and trans fats that increase the risk of heart problems. Nuts and fish contain omega three fatty acids which have a protective action on the heart. Foods with the right kinds of fat, like plants and fish instead of meat and butter, should be the primary source of protein. One should substitute fatty foods with fruits, vegetables, cereals and grains. Consumption of sugar and sweets should be cut down.

Most people consume too much salt in their diet. A low intake of sodium can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. Nutritionists recommend eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day; six or more servings of grain products; fat free and low fat milk products; fish, beans; skinless poultry and lean meats. Fats and oils such as ghee and cooking oils should be consumed in less quantity.

Foods that can decrease the onset of heart diseases

If taken daily in right amounts, these foods can help fight heart diseases:

  • Bengal gram (channa dal): It decreases bad cholesterol and triglycerides. There is no significant change in good cholesterol. It lowers heart attack by 24 percent. The recommended amount to be consumed everyday is 50 gm.

  • Soyabean: It lowers bad cholesterol. It cuts down heart attack and risk of stroke by 45 percent. The recommended amount to be consumed per day is 50gm.

  • Psyllium husk (Isabgol): It lowers cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar levels. It cuts down heart risk by 30 percent. The blood sugar levels go down in Type 2 Diabetes. The recommended amount is 15 gm. per day.

  • Garlic: It reduces plaque formation in the arteries and lowers down homocysteine levels in the blood. It reduces heart risk by 30 percent. The recommended amount is 3-4 cloves.

  • Fenugreek: The anti-inflammatory action of fenugreek prevents narrowing of arteries, lowers cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It reduces heart, stroke risk by 45 percent. It also lowers blood sugar in Type 2 Diabetes. The recommended amount is 25 gm. per day.

  • Amla: It is a rich source of Vitamin C which is a powerful anti-oxidant that enhances immunity. It lowers the risk of both heart attack and stroke by 24 percent. The recommended amount is two a day.

Thus foods can really help have a healthy heart in a healthy body.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has issued guidelines for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease by dietary and other lifestyle practices. One of its general principles deals with reducing the risks of coronary disease by reducing bad cholesterol (LDL). The major components that raise LDL are saturated fats, trans saturated fats and high cholesterol foods. Dietary factors that lower bad cholesterol include vegetable oils rich in polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) and monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and to a lesser extent soluble fibre and soya protein. Vegetable oils like safflower oil are rich in PUFA while oils like canola oil, olive oil and groundnut oil are rich in MUFA. Saturated fat should be minimized.


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Dr. Anjali Dewan hold a position in the Department of Homescience, St. Bede’s College, Shimla, India. Her articles and papers have appeared in several journals and newspapers.