Most people have higher blood pressure in winter than in the summer, when blood pressure is usually lower. Older adult or those who are overweight, or with heart, lung, or kidney conditions are at increased risk of higher blood pressure from heat when the temperature is above 70°F and the humidity is over 70%.
It’s not only stress, poor diet, and lack of physical activity that can cause changes in blood pressure.
Research shows that in winter, people tend to have high blood pressure and higher cases of cardiovascular disease mortality. Meanwhile, being older, having conditions like heart disease, and taking hypertension medications can make you more at risk of experiencing health consequences during hot weather.
What Is The Relationship Between Heat And Blood Pressure?
Heat is an environmental factor that impacts blood pressure. It can cause blood vessels to widen, giving way to lower blood pressure. As a result, blood flows more freely because the pathways aren’t constricted.
On the other hand, higher pressure is required for blood to pass through the narrowed vessels.
What Effects Does Heat Have On Blood Pressure?
Experts have established that high temperatures (above 70°F) and high humidity levels (above 70%) can prompt the heart to beat faster and increase blood flow to the skin. It’s the body’s attempt to radiate heat.
Blood vessels dilate or expand during this time, resulting in lower blood pressure. This, in turn, can lead to dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, and falls — all dangerous consequences in older adults.
For those over 65, certain chronic conditions and maintenance medicine may affect how the body controls temperature. This makes them more prone to heat-related problems. Older adults must monitor their blood pressure and practice safety precautions during hot days.
What Are Some Factors That Affect The Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure is a public health concern.
In the U.S., about 47% of the adult population has hypertension. According to the American Heart Association, this condition is defined as having a systolic blood pressure greater than 130 mmHg and a diastolic blood pressure of over 80 mmHg over time. Simply put, the blood pressure reading is above 130/80.
One’s blood pressure is primarily influenced by these factors:
- Cardiac output (volume of blood from the heart through ventricles)
- Peripheral vascular resistance (the ability of arteries and veins to cater to increased blood flow)
- Volume of blood in circulation throughout the body
- Blood viscosity or thickness
- Vessel wall elasticity (capacity of vessels to revert to their normal shape after it gets stretched out and compressed)
Environmental and behavioral factors can also impact blood pressure. These include:
- Time of day
- Physical activity level
- Tobacco and alcohol consumption
- Psychological stress
As mentioned, older adults are more prone to high blood pressure. In particular, the prevalence of hypertension in this age group is 70%. Men are also more likely to be hypertensive than women, but this is reversed once the woman undergoes menopause.
What Are Some Ways That Heat Can Increase Blood Pressure?
Generally, blood pressure is high in colder temperatures and low during hot weather.
However, note that you’ll become more prone to higher blood pressure as you grow older. And blood pressure medications can make you more susceptible to sun sensitivity and heat-related illnesses during summer months and heat waves. These drugs contain beta blockers that slow the heartbeat, affect blood circulation and hinder effective heat exchange.
Having cardiovascular, kidney, and lung problems, being overweight, taking diuretics or water pills, and having a low-sodium diet are also associated with poor heat tolerance.
You’ll also decrease your body’s ability to secrete sweat as you age. Sweating helps control body temperature. When the temperature rises, the inability to sweat properly will put you at a higher risk of experiencing heat stroke (or overheating).
High humidity levels further aggravate it as moisture can interfere with your capacity to sweat.
Excessive sweating isn’t a good situation, either. It can result in dehydration, strain the heart, and cause serious consequences like a heart attack or heart failure.
How Can Older Adults Combat The Effects Of Heat?
Older adults are more prone to heat exhaustion and other heat-related issues. Here are tips to help fight the ill effects of exposure to hot temperatures:
- Opt for light and breathable clothing
- Avoid direct exposure to the sun
- Limit doing any vigorous physical activity outdoors (if you need to do so, schedule it early in the morning or late in the afternoon)
- Wear sunscreen (experts recommend broad-spectrum SPF)
- Drink plenty of fluids (e.g., cool water, sports drinks) and avoid consuming alcohol and caffeinated beverages
- Shower or bathe using adequately cool water (not too cold)
- As much as possible, stay in a cool place (e.g., air-conditioned rooms)
- Especially when the summer heat is extreme, limit the use of oven or stove to prepare meals
Apart from these, also watch for warning signs of common heat-related concerns.
For heat stroke, check the body temperature (a 104°F reading is an indication). Someone suffering from it will have a fast heart rate, hot and dry skin, and nausea. They are also likely to pass out.
For heat exhaustion, signs include heavy sweating (or no sweating at all), paleness, cold skin, fatigue, nausea, and fainting. On the other hand, dehydration is characterized by weakness, dizziness, headache, confusion, and muscle cramps.
Countering these entails drinking plenty of water and sports drinks. For more life-threatening situations (i.e., heat stroke), immediately call 911 and seek medical attention for your affected loved one.
How Is Global Warming Proving To Be A Health Risk?
Climate change doesn’t only affect the “health” of the Earth. It’s a critical healthcare issue impacting millions worldwide. In fact, the World Health Organization has called it the “single biggest health threat facing humanity.”
Global warming has increased the cases of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. It also increased the prevalence of food- and water-borne illnesses.
Additionally, with heat waves becoming more frequent, more individuals are more prone to experiencing heat-related concerns with heat waves becoming more frequent. This is particularly alarming for older people who are more sensitive to climate hazards like that.
Being exposed to the consequences of global warming can also heighten these seniors’ already-existing conditions (including hypertension).
Their limited mobility and agility can also make the elderly more vulnerable during extreme weather events. If they have dementia or other conditions that affect cognitive functioning, it can further impair their ability to evaluate risks and plan their responses. Older individuals must depend on loved ones, caregivers, and healthcare providers to keep them safe.