Living With Atrial Fibrillation? Three Tips For Keeping Your Heart Healthy This Summer

Intense heat can be hard on the heart. While healthy people can usually handle summer heat without too much trouble, those who have weakened hearts can be in danger when the temperatures get too high. That includes patients living with atrial fibrillation, or AFib, a type of heart arrhythmia that affects at least 2.7 million Americans.

Although some patients consider the condition minor – and many may not even notice symptoms – atrial fibrillation is a serious condition that could cause severe health problems. Take a look at some heart healthy summer tips for patients living with AFib.

Stay Well Hydrated

Staying hydrated in the summer is important for everyone, but it's particularly important for patients with AFib, who may be more susceptible to heat stroke. Dehydration is a trigger for heart arrhythmias, so it's important to drink plenty of water to avoid it. Don't wait until you feel thirsty – experts say that feeling thirsty is a sign that you're already becoming dehydrated.

You may also want to avoid caffeine and alcohol while you're spending time in the heat. These substances are diuretics, which means that they can contribute to dehydration. Additionally, alcohol dilates your blood vessels and caffeine stimulates your heart, both factors that can contribute to arrhythmias.

Have Heart-Healthy Cookouts

It wouldn't be summer without summer cookouts, but be careful about what foods you choose. Fatty meats and sides can raise your cholesterol level and increase inflammation in your heart, leading to further heart problems.

There are plenty of heart-healthy foods that taste great on the grill. Fish is a great source of heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids. Oily types of fish, like salmon or tuna, are especially good for your heart. Summer is also a great time for seasonal veggies. Try veggie kabobs with zucchini, squash, peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes. They're a terrific treat when grilled and are good for your heart.

Know When to Come Inside

Even when you're well-hydrated and otherwise healthy, extreme temperatures can be dangerous to someone with AFib. Your heart has to work harder in the heat – it beats faster and harder in order to pump more blood to your skin to help keep you cool. This isn't a problem for people with healthy hearts, but when you have AFib, this additional strain could trigger an arrhythmia. Keep your time outside to a minimum during the hottest hours of the day, and try to get any outdoor activities in during the morning or evening hours when the heat isn't as strong.

If you must be outside in extreme heat, wear light clothes and keep strenuous activities to a minimum. Exercise is good for your heart, but for AFib patients, the summer season is a good time to exercise indoors, in a climate-controlled environment. If you start to feel dizzy, headachey, clammy, or nauseated, stop what you're doing and go inside.

It's important to take AFib seriously, especially during the summer. Talk to your doctor about strategies to help you stay safe and keep your heart healthy while enjoying your summer. For more information, contact a professional in your area like those found at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital.