How Soaring Texas temperatures Are Causing Heart Attacks and Heat Strokes
Last year, 279 people in Texas died due to heat, and this years record-breaking heat waves might cause us to exceed that number in 2023.
Texas is witnessing a rising trend in extreme heat, as demonstrated by an analysis of temperature data from The Texas Tribune, with climate change steadily pushing the typical temperature boundaries upwards. This month, a severe heat wave swept through the region, producing three consecutive weeks of temperatures surpassing 100 degrees, spanning from the Texas-Mexico border to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. This intense heat has not only broken previous records but also initiated widespread excessive heat warnings across a majority of the state.
Extreme heat and soaring temperatures can have a range of health impacts, including an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. So far across Texas this year 40 deaths are being investigated as heat-related in Dallas County. Further south in Harris County, 15 deaths have been confirmed as caused by the high temperatures, with those who died ranging in age from 20 to 89.
In this article we'll discuss the current climate, how the hgih termaprature cause cardiovascular events, and what you can do to continue to protect you and your loved ones during our period of abnormally hot weather.
What Are Heat Waves?
Heatwaves are prolonged periods of excessively hot weather, which may be accompanied by high humidity. Heat waves conditions persist for multiple days, particularly if nights don’t offer much relief, the human body can struggle to cool down. This leads to heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and the life-threatening heat stroke.
How Heat Waves Cause Cardiovascular Changes
Extreme heat and soaring temperatures can have a range of health impacts, including an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. This is a well-documented concern not only in Texas but in many parts of the world that experience heatwaves. Here's a breakdown of how high temperatures in places like Texas might be linked to cardiovascular events:
Dehydration: Extreme heat can lead to dehydration, which thickens the blood. Thicker blood makes the heart work harder, increasing the risk of clots and thereby potentially leading to heart attacks and strokes.
Electrolyte Imbalance: Profuse sweating due to high temperatures can lead to the loss of essential salts and minerals (electrolytes) from the body. An imbalance in these can disturb the heart's rhythm, potentially leading to arrhythmias or other cardiovascular events.
Increased Heart Rate: The body tries to cool itself down during high temperatures by increasing the heart rate and pushing more blood to the skin's surface. This increased workload on the heart can be problematic for those with existing heart conditions.
Blood Vessel Constriction: When the body is exposed to extreme heat, blood vessels near the skin expand to release heat. This can lead to reduced blood flow to the heart, especially if a person is dehydrated.
Air Quality: High temperatures, especially in urban areas, can exacerbate air pollution problems. Polluted air can cause inflammation in the lungs and other parts of the body, leading to increased strain on the heart and potentially contributing to heart attacks and strokes.
Underlying Health Conditions: Those with pre-existing health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease are more vulnerable during heatwaves. Their bodies might already be under stress, and the added strain from extreme temperatures can exacerbate their conditions.
Medications: Some medications can impair the body's ability to regulate temperature or could cause the body to lose more fluids. Individuals on such medications might be more susceptible to heat-related illnesses and complications.
Lack of Acclimatization: Sudden spikes in temperatures or prolonged high temperatures might catch populations unprepared, especially if they are not acclimatized to such conditions. This sudden exposure can increase the risk of heat-related illnesses.
Behavioral Factors: People might underestimate the heat and continue to engage in strenuous activities outdoors, leading to overheating and stress on the cardiovascular system.
How Heat Waves Cause A Heat Stroke
Heat stroke, or heat exhaustion, is the most severe form of heat-related illness and can be life-threatening. A heat stroke occur when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature and can't dissipate excess heat effectively. A heat wave can set the stage for heat stroke by causing prolonged exposure to elevated temperatures. According to Healthline, a heatstroke is caused by overheating of the body to a core temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher.
Texas Heat Wave Facts
In the past week, numerous Texan cities, including San Angelo and Del Rio, have experienced temperatures reaching or exceeding 110 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperatures are typically associated with regions in northern Africa and the Middle East during this season.
Sings That You Might Be Suffering From A Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat injury and is a medical emergency. If you suspect that someone has a heat stroke, you should call 911 or transport them to a hospital immediately.
Here are the primary symptoms of heat stroke:
High Body Temperature: A core body temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher, obtained with a rectal thermometer, is the main sign of heatstroke.
Altered Mental State or Behavior: Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures, and even coma can all result from heatstroke.
Alteration in Sweating: In heat stroke caused by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heat stroke caused by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel moist.
Nausea and Vomiting: You might feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
Flushed Skin: Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases.
Rapid Breathing: Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.
Racing Heart Rate: Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.
Headache: You might experience a throbbing headache.
If someone is showing any of these signs, it's crucial to act quickly. Move them to a cooler location, try to cool them down by whatever means available (for instance, placing cool, wet cloths on their body or immersing them in cool water), and seek medical attention immediately.
Heat Waves Have Detrimental Effects On Our Health Environment, And Infrastructure
Heat waves can have detrimental effects on human health, the environment, and infrastructure:
Human Health: Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can lead to heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can be fatal if not treated promptly. Vulnerable populations, like the elderly, children, and those with chronic medical conditions, are particularly at risk.
Environment: Heat waves can exacerbate drought conditions, reduce water supplies, and strain power grids as the demand for electricity (particularly for air conditioning) spikes. This can lead to brownouts or even blackouts.
Infrastructure: Extended high temperatures can damage roadways, bridges, and other infrastructure. For example, asphalt can soften and become rutted or gooey, leading to road deterioration.
Climate scientists note that with the ongoing global warming trend, heat waves are becoming more frequent, longer, and more intense in many parts of the world. This has prompted increased attention to adaptive strategies, such as cooling centers, urban planning that emphasizes shade and green spaces, and public education on the dangers of extreme heat.
How To Protect Yourself During A Texas Heat Wave
Protecting yourself during a heatwave is crucial to prevent heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Here are some steps you can follow to stay safe:
Drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if you don't feel thirsty.
Avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar as they can cause you to lose more body fluid.
Keep a bottle of water with you and take sips regularly.
During the hottest parts of the day (usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.), stay indoors in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, go to a public place that does, such as a library or shopping mall.
Use fans to circulate air if air conditioning isn't available.
Wear Appropriate Clothing
Light-colored, loose-fitting clothing helps reflect sunlight and heat.
Wear a wide-brimmed hat to shield the face and neck and use sunglasses to protect your eyes.
Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to all exposed skin.
Limit Physical Activity
Avoid strenuous activities during the hottest parts of the day.
If you must be active, do it during the cooler parts of the day such as early morning or late evening.
Take frequent breaks if you need to be active.
Use Windows Wisely
If you don't have air conditioning, open windows during the cooler parts of the day and evening. Consider using window fans to help with ventilation.
Close curtains and blinds during the hottest parts of the day to block out the sun and keep your living spaces cooler.
Remember, heat-related illnesses are preventable. By recognizing the signs and knowing how to respond, you can protect yourself and others. If someone exhibits symptoms of a heat-related illness, get them to a cooler place immediately, help them hydrate, and seek medical attention if necessary.