Saunas, steam and soaks — too hot for your heart?

August 23, 2018 | by Ann Davis, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

Many people see time in a hot tub, sauna or steam room as a great way to chill. But are these sudden exposures to high temperatures good or bad for your heart?

Some saunas sizzle at 160-200 degrees. Modern rock-filled saunas with electric heaters may range from 90 degrees at the floor level to 185 degrees at the top bench. Steam rooms typically run somewhat “cooler” — between 110-120 degrees. Hot tubs typically register 100-104 degrees.

All of these potentially relaxing experiences can dilate (enlarge) your blood vessels, divert blood from your core to your skin and lower your blood pressure. Your body then compensates for the lower blood pressure by increasing your heart rate by about 30 percent.

Most healthy people can withstand these temporary changes with no ill effects. That’s even true of many people who have certain medication-controlled risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure.

However, check with your doctor before entering or plunging into the heat if you have low blood pressure, heart rhythm problems, coronary artery disease, a vascular problem or a history of stroke or TIAs (mini-strokes). Your health and medications will be taken into account in determining how much superheating is likely to overtax your heart.

If you’ve received the green light, help ensure your safety by taking the following precautions, smart measures for anyone indulging in a sauna, steam bath or hot tub soak:

  • Drink water and avoid alcohol before and after your session. Heat increases the risk of dehydration.
  • Choose moderation. Limit your session to 5-10 minutes and, when controls are available, regulate the temperature.
  • If you feel any shortness of breath, tightness in your chest, lightheadedness or other symptoms, leave immediately.

For most people who like a sauna, steam room or hot tub, the relaxing effects of these experiences put them in the healthy plus column. So grab your water bottle, head for the gym or spa, and enjoy.

Learn more about heart and vascular services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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