Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Heat and heart failure

Heart Beat

Heat and heart failure

Deadly heat waves in the United States and Europe taught us that people with heart failure are especially vulnerable to high temperatures. Although their heart trouble is clearly one reason they have trouble with the heat, blood vessels supplying the skin may contribute to it.

One way we cope with excess heat is by rerouting blood flow. Responding to signals from deep in the brain, blood vessels that supply the internal organs narrow. This limits circulation to the stomach, intestines, liver, and kidneys. At the same time, tiny arteries (arterioles) near the skin relax and open. As extra hot blood flows just below the skin, some of its heat escapes into the air.

Two independent research teams, one at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas and one at the University of Western Australia, looked at this response in people with heart failure. It turns out that arterioles under their skin don't dilate with rising body temperature. This makes it difficult to radiate excess heat.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »