How Your Medicine Might Make You More Susceptible to Heat Stroke

Aging poses unique challenges to withstanding higher temperatures
How Your Medicine Might Make You More Susceptible to Heat Stroke

Contributor: Ronan Factora, MD

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For most people, the warm weather months are a great time to be outside. Daytime walks, gardening, exercising and relaxation outdoors are common activities during warm days.

Everyone, regardless of age, should be encouraged to reduce sedentary behavior and remain as active as possible. This includes spending time outdoors.

Aging, however, poses challenges related to exposure to hot weather and higher temperatures. This is not only due to the body’s reduced ability to regulate its temperature changes during aging, but also through the medical problems that can come with aging.

Impaired ability to cool off

Older adults often have a reduced ability to feel thirst. This change in sensitivity — coupled with aging’s normal reduction in the body percentage of water — increases the likelihood that they will get dehydrated.

Also, many older adults take diuretics such as furosemide and hydrochlorothiazide, which are meant to help reduce excess fluid in the body. These medications can result in real problems for older people.

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Older adults don’t sweat as much as those who are younger. Consequently, it’s harder for the body to cool itself when its core temperature rises. This can be compounded by taking medicines such as oxybutynin or tolterodine, which are prescribed for overactive bladder, but also impair the ability to sweat.

Risk for heat stroke rises

The inability to regulate temperature and a decrease in sweating can contribute to symptoms of lightheadedness and dizziness. When the body’s ability to cool itself becomes significantly impaired, the risk for heat stroke increases.

Older adults taking blood pressure medications or men taking medications for an enlarged prostate such as tamsulosin may be at higher risk for dizziness-related events.

In particular, orthostatic hypotension, which is a reduction in blood flow to the brain caused by moving from lying down to standing or sitting, can lead to dizziness and increased risk of a fall. For many seniors, this fall can lead to a fracture.

How to protect yourself

Here are a few suggestions to prevent complications due to warm weather:

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  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration. One way to make sure you are drinking enough is to look at the color of your urine when you go to the bathroom. You want it to be a light, clear amber/yellow color. Darker urine is your body’s way of telling you that you should drink more fluids.
  • Wear a hat to keep cool if you’re spending time in the sun.
  • Take breaks and sit down in shaded and air-conditioned areas to prevent overheating.
  • Watch out for these symptoms:  lightheadedness with change of position; headache; confusion; and reduced sweating. They may be signs of heat stroke and require immediate medical attention.

My general advice is to enjoy the outdoors — it’s one of the best ways to keep active — but be aware of the signs of heat stroke and ways to prevent it.

This post is based on one of a series of articles produced by U.S. News & World Report in association with the medical experts at Cleveland Clinic. 

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