Growing up with congenital heart disease, I was always advised against overexposure to the hot weather and warned about the effects of staying in the sun for too long. Despite the warning, summer was always my favorite time of year. I never thought much about my health conditions until I was forced to. Recently I have become more aware of the toll that the weather can take on the cardiovascular system and the lungs. When I was younger, I thought I was invincible. Now, as I experience an increase in symptoms in the summer months due to my heart condition and pulmonary hypertension, I know I’m not.
The hot summer weather comes with a list of challenges for those living with lung disease or heart disease.
One of the hardest things for me to manage as the weather gets warmer is the increased level of fatigue, lack of energy, and bodily weakness. Some days, doing any type of physical activity in the hot weather seems impossible. My muscles give out easily, my legs feel more tired after a short amount of steps, and my arms feel as though they are weighed down by bags of bricks. No matter how much time I take to rest, or how consistently I take my medications and follow my treatment plan, there are times when I simply can’t find the strength. It becomes frustrating when just a walk from my car to the beach is enough to send me inside for the rest of the day. I have to force myself to take much-needed breaks throughout the day, and have to be even more conscious of taking the proper medications and treatments.
Lately, I had to increase my diuretic dosage because I have been experiencing extra fluid retention with the humidity. It is common for the average person to swell a bit in the heat, but when it gets to the point where it is uncomfortable and painful, it should be addressed. With the added workload that the summer weather puts on the heart, it is no surprise that swelling can occur throughout the body. Drinking water has been increasingly difficult for me. I know that I need the water to stay hydrated in the heat, but any extra fluid that I take into my body seems to accumulate. This causes bloating in my stomach and swelling in my hands, arms, and calves. The increase in diuretics, elevating and icing my legs or arm, and attempting to rest throughout the day has helped me manage this a little better.
With the increased temperature, it’s been difficult just to walk up the stairs to my apartment and play catch outside with the children that I nanny. It becomes problematic when I am more forgetful, have a higher demand for oxygen, and develop other breathing problems such as asthma, bronchial spasms, and chest tightness. When I compare myself to how I once was, it saddens me to see how much has physically changed in just a few years. I rely on breathing treatments throughout the day, medications for asthma, steroids, and my oxygen to help me breathe as best as possible.
It is common for those with pulmonary hypertension and other lung and heart conditions to have some increase in symptoms during the summer months. Increase in bodily fatigue, exhaustion, bloating, swelling, and difficulty breathing are just a few of the many symptoms to manage.
Unfortunately, with chronic illness, the summer puts an added toll on our physical health. Gone are the days of the summer being a time for relaxation, cookouts, flip-flops, and suntans. It’s important this summer to alert a medical professional about increases in symptoms. Practice self-care by taking all necessary medications and listen to your body when it tells you to slow down. Develop a treatment plan so there is room for some summer fun!
Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.