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Beware of the Heat Wave – High Temperature, Humidity with Medications can Cause Heat Stroke

Living in Florida for almost 10 years, I’m more aware of the dangers of a “Heat Wave.”  With high temperatures and humidity, everyone should be well-hydrated whenever they’re out.  I always keep a gallon of water in the car just to keep me and the kids watered. This was not always the case.  When I started treating the Bipolar Disorder with medications, I ran into a problem a few times. What was that problem???  Hyperthermia, more commonly known as Heat Stroke!!!

One of the other jobs I have requires me to work outside.  On a hot day in the 90’s, I was out working at a hotel in the sun all day. By the end of the day my heart rate skyrocketed, I started to sweat profusely and I was getting faint and dizzy. I drank as much water as I could then felt nauseous and vomited all the water up… I was getting strange muscle cramps and even thought I might be on the verge of a heart attack!  I did not really know what was going on, but I knew I had to cool off.

So on the job site, I turned on the water hose and for about 45 minutes I just sat on the sidewalk hosing myself down with cool water till I could stand up without feeling dizzy… Then went back to work!  I had no idea what was going on and the problem would not stop. I just finished my work with the hose in hand cooling me off… I wonder what the patrons of the hotel thought seeing this big guy showering himself down outside?  I know that’s one wet t-shirt contest I wouldn’t want to see!

Mental Health Humor beware of the heat wage heat stroke

Caption: No,No,I’m Fine! Nothing Wrong with me… Look,
I’m happy know. I gut no problem, NOPE I’m fine
Title: Psychological Defense Mechanisms:
Denial – Distortion – Delusion

Heat is taking lives!

Over the last few weeks, the summer’s Heat Index has triggered hazardous conditions and world-wide heat stroke warnings!  Here in the U.S., the death toll is raising and in the U.K., fatalities linked to hot weather has reached 200! Heatwave health alert remains in place even as I write.  Who are at risk??  Yes, you might be, children and elderly are vulnerable with sharp rises in temperature and humidity. With such extremes, we cannot forget another extremely vulnerable group of people…Who? Anyone taking medications!  While this goes the same for people taking meds other then for treatment of mental illness or mood disorder, for purposes of my blog, this post is focusing on the Mental Health side of the issue.

Remember when I told you about the hot “day my heart rate skyrocketed, I started to sweat profusely and I was getting faint and dizzy“?  I recognized there was a problem that was not just heat cramps and heat exhaustion, two lesser forms of Hyperthermia. Rather, I was rapidly heading to a full heat stroke episode. In hindsight, I probably should have gone to the Emergency Room (E.R.) in case it was a heart attack.  The reason why I didn’t?  I was taking Lithium (Lithobid, Eskalith) and Bupropion  (Wellbutrin). My doctor warned me about working outside in the sun and told me that this combo would increase the effect of the heat and could lead to HEAT STROKE!

I found this information about different medications.  I recommend everyone check out the site! It has a detailed list of medications that are effected by sun and heat.

(medication) Reactions Due to Increased Heat

The body needs to maintain a relatively consistent temperature to function properly. Some medicines can block the natural ability of the body to adjust to changes in temperature. This can result in overheating.

As the outside temperature increases, the body keeps from overheating by releasing excess heat. The most important ways the body releases heat are by:

  • Increasing blood flow to the skin
  • Sweating

These two actions work together– increasing blood flow to the skin brings heat to the surface of the body where the skin acts like a large radiator. Sweating increases heat loss from the skin through the process of evaporation.

Some medicines and drugs can disrupt these processes resulting in a reduced ability to adjust to temperature changes.

To increase blood flow to the skin, the blood vessels in the body first inform the brain of the elevated temperature. The brain then sends a message to blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow to the skin. The heart must also work harder to circulate the blood.

Some drugs keep the body from increasing blood flow to the skin.

  • Certain psychiatric medications (including haloperidol- Haldol®, risperidone- Risperdal®, and others) block the body’s message to the brain regarding the elevated temperature.
  • Stimulants and decongestants (including amphetamines, cocaine, pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine) actually reduce blood flow to the skin.
  • Certain blood pressure medications (including propranolol and other beta blockers) reduce the ability of the heart to respond to the need to pump more blood into the skin. This may increase the likelihood of dizziness and lightheadedness as the body attempts to respond to heat.

Some drugs decrease sweating, leading to decreased heat loss and overheating.

  • Tricyclic antidepressants (including amitriptyline, nortriptyline).
  • Cold and allergy medications (including diphenhydramine- Benadryl®, tripolidine, chlorpheniramine).
  • Drugs of abuse (including amphetamines, MDMA, methamphetamine, narcotics, Jimson Weed, PCP).

Some drugs may cause dehydration.

  • These include water pills (including furosemide- Lasix®), alcoholic beverages and products containing caffeine (including coffee or soda pop)

Some medications may cloud your judgment and the need for action.

  • Sedatives (including alcoholic beverages, diazepam, alprazolam)
  • Opioids (including hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and codeine). If you are taking any of these medicines, be aware that your ability to deal with the heat may be impaired.

What are heat stroke symptoms?

An article at said, the “symptoms of heat stroke can sometimes mimic those of heart attack“! This I understand, but the other conditions a person may experience is symptoms of heat exhaustion before progressing to heat strokes.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

Nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, headache, muscle cramps and aches, and dizziness.
However, some individuals can develop symptoms of heat stroke suddenly and rapidly without warning.

Different people may have different symptoms and signs of heatstroke. But common symptoms and signs of heat stroke include:

  • high body temperature
  • the absence of sweating
  • hot, red, flushed dry skin
  • rapid pulse
  • difficulty breathing
  • strange behavior
  • hallucinations
  • confusion
  • agitation
  • disorientation
  • seizure

What are Hazards of Excessive Heat

Heat disorders generally have to do with a reduction or collapse of the body’s ability to shed heat by circulatory changes and sweating or a chemical (salt) imbalance caused by too much sweating. When the body heats to quickly to cool itself safely, or when you lose much fluid or salt through dehydration or sweating, your body temperature rises and heat-related illness may develop. Heat disorders share one common feature: the individual has been in the heat too long and has exercised too much for his or her age and physical condition

Heat Index temperature chart

In conclusion, if you take meds, take precautions in the sun and keep hydrated!!  Of course, I could have  simply said this at the beginning of the post, but then what would you have learned?

Beware of the Heat Wave – High Temperature, Humidity with Medications can Cause Heat Stroke

Chato Stewart

Chato Stewart has a mission, to draw and use humor as a positive tool to live, to cope with the debilitating effects symptoms of mental illness. Chato Stewart is a Mental Health Hero and Advocate. Recovery Peer Specialist board-certified in Florida. Chato is the artist behind the cartoons series Mental Health Humor, Over-Medicated, and The Family Stew - seen here in his blog posts. The cartoons are drawn from his personal experience of living with bipolar disorder (and other labels). [email protected]

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APA Reference
Stewart, C. (2011). Beware of the Heat Wave – High Temperature, Humidity with Medications can Cause Heat Stroke. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 10, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Jan 2011
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