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6 Medications That Put You at Risk for Heat Stroke

July 09, 2024

When the temperature rises, everyone is at risk of heat exhaustion and other complications.

But could your medications be putting you even more at risk for heat stroke?

“Blistering heat can have an entire-body effect on all of us, causing us to perspire, as well as feeling short of breath and exhausted. But, people who take certain medications for chronic conditions may be impacted by the heat even more than usual,” says Andrew Wong, MD, a primary care provider with Hartford HealthCare in Westport.

Here are a few medications that can affect how you tolerate heat and the symptoms to watch for.

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1. Diuretics.

Diuretics work by removing excess sodium and water from the body through urine. They’re often prescribed for high blood pressure, congestive heart failure or edema.

But the same mechanism that makes them helpful for those conditions, can also make you dehydrated. This in turn affects the body’s ability to regulate its temperature.

“Sweat is a protective mechanism to cool our body temperature when we get hot. If we get dehydrated, it impairs our ability to cool ourselves,” Dr. Wong says.

2. Calcium channel and beta blockers.

For those with cardiovascular conditions or high blood pressure, you may be prescribed a calcium channel or beta blocker. These medications work to take stress off the heart and can also relax blood vessels, lowering blood pressure.

But they also can decrease your sense of thirst, which can put you at risk of dehydration when the heat rises and your need for fluids increases.

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3. Selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs).

People with anxiety or depression are often prescribed selective serotonin receptor inhibitor (SSRI) like Prozac and Zoloft to help ease symptoms.

But SSRIs can affect the body’s ability to regulate its temperature. The result can be too much sweating in some cases, or not enough, which can pose a serious danger in hot weather.

4. ADHD medication.

Attention deficit disorder is often treated with stimulant or amphetaminic-based medications like Ritalin or Adderrall.

But these medications also increase metabolism and heart rate, which can in turn increase body heat, putting you at risk of heat complications.

5. Thyroid replacement medications.

If your thyroid gland isn’t producing enough hormones, you may take a medication that replaces them like Synthroid.

Since these medications increase your metabolic rate, it can also make you more sensitive to heat, especially when you’re just starting out or adjusting your dosage.

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6. Antihistamines.

Antihistamines are used for everything from allergies to sleeping to travel sickness.

But they also affect neurotransmitters that regulate bodily functions like sweating. This can make it harder for your body to cool itself on hot days.

Early signs of heat exhaustion.

When temperatures reach the 90s, our internal body temperature risks rising above 103 degrees, where we experience symptoms of heat exhaustion. These include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Heavy sweating
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness

Heat exhaustion can quickly progress to heat stroke.

If let untreated, heat exhaustion can quickly become more serious.

“Heat exhaustion can progress in as few as 15 minutes to heat stroke. That’s when the body’s regulatory system fails and it can’t cool itself off,” Dr. Wong says.

Symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Impaired consciousness or loss of consciousness
  • Lack of sweating

Sweating, our body’s natural cooling mechanism, also ceases in heat stroke. “The elderly and children are particularly susceptible to heat stroke, which can be fatal.”

Otherwise healthy adults who take certain medications are also at higher risk for complications from the heat, he notes.

Tips for staying cool without skipping your medications.

To stay cool during the heat of the summer, and remain compliant with your medication regimen, Dr. Wong says the simplest thing to do is be aware of the dangers so you can prevent them. Talk with your primary care or specialty provider about taking care of yourself.

When the mercury rises, he recommends:

  • Take sips of ice water every 20 minutes.
  • Take frequent breaks in an air conditioned environment or in the shade if you must be outside.
  • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing that reflects the sun.
  • Slowly condition yourself to the heat. Instead of heading out for a long run on the first hot day of the season, spend longer and longer periods outdoors so your body can adjust.