Summer Heat’s Effect on Chronic Disease

father with two kids on bikes at sunset

Managing the pain and discomfort that come with a chronic illness is difficult all year round, but in the summer, the effects can feel even worse. Rising temperatures and fluctuating humidity levels take a toll on the body, exacerbating chronic disease symptoms.

People who have chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease are at a much higher risk for developing heat stroke or other heat injuries than people without. Sweating, for instance, is one of the body’s best cooling systems, but it’s helped along by an increased heart rate, which occurs naturally as a response to heat; in people whose hearts are compromised, this can do more harm than good. Heat stroke occurs when the body loses its ability to regulate its own temperature, so it overheats, shutting down vital organs and stopping sweating to compensate. Bodies that have been weakened by chronic illness naturally have a lower threshold at which this can occur, and the effects are correspondingly worse. Chronic disease patients need to be extra vigilant about not exerting themselves in the heat, spending more time in cool, shady places than in the sun, and drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated.

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) often react poorly to increased heat, especially if it’s also humid: Uhthoff’s Sign is a combination of increased fatigue and muscle weakness accompanied by blurred vision. It’s been shown to occur when a patient’s body temperature is raised by less than one degree, so keeping cool and well-rested in the heat is essential.

Autoimmune disorders such as Lupus decrease people’s ability to tolerate the sun; the extra sensitivity to sunlight, often increased by the nature of the medications taken to treat the disease, can lead to serious sunburns. It’s advised to stay out of the sun, especially during peak hours, and to wear sunscreen and protective clothing and hats when outdoors.

Higher temperatures make most people feel more tired, raise their heart rate, and increase the chances of dehydration. Although these effects are worse in those who suffer from chronic disease, the advice is the same for everyone: don’t overexert yourself in the heat, take frequent water breaks in a shady spot, and keep track of how you’re feeling so you know when you’re overdoing it.


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