two women sit under a rosebush on the beach. One is in a wheelchair and the other has an LVAD under her bathing suit connected to a machine in her purse.

Pretty Lady Chronicles: Managing Summer with Heart Failure

I’ve never been very fond of heat nor humidity, but I do love the outdoors. It’s officially summer, and temperatures are finally starting to rise. Add sheltering in place for months, and I’m more than ready to venture into the great outdoors.

The fierce summer heat

I enjoy relaxing in nature. Even pruning the rose bushes does something for me.  What I wouldn’t do to be on the beach listening to the ocean waves while soaking in some vitamin D right now. Sometimes a little planning is necessary, but all of those things are still possible while overcoming heart failure.

Summer days in the southern United States can be fierce with heat. Weather conditions can directly affect individuals with heart failure. For me, temperatures above 90 degrees may cause me to experience varying symptoms. Higher temperatures may lead to dizzy spells or dehydration. Humid days may bring on shortness of breath. Knowing how my body reacts to summer weather conditions allows me to plan with one goal — protecting my heart health.

Hydration and A/C

Summer is here, and staying hydrated is essential. I make sure there’s plenty of bottled water on hand. Tip: I keep a case in my trunk for emergencies. An article that cites research from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Drinking water helps replenish the fluids lost by excessive sweating. If you don't get enough water, you may become dehydrated, and the combination of hot temperatures and dehydration can lead to serious heat-related illnesses.”1 Being that I also experience excessive sweating, it’s vital for me to stay hydrated to protect my heart health. Following recommendations from my medical team, I restrict my fluid consumption to no more than 2,000 ml per day or 8 cups in total fluids.

More on this topic

I have accepted that I do have limitations as a result of my heart failure diagnosis. The sudden onset of shortness of breath in humid temperatures has taught me to adjust; although it has been challenging at times. As the CDC has recommended for those at the greatest risk for heat-related illness, I stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible on humid days.2 When it comes to managing your heart health, being informed of weather conditions is another way to be your own best advocate.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

As some of you are aware, I’m overcoming heart failure with the assistance of an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device). That in itself can present some obstacles with clothing, and in this instance, swimsuits. I love the saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Through the years, I’ve learned making accommodations or adjustments is quite doable. This way, I can take full advantage of summer and beach outings in spite of heart failure.

Having an LVAD also means I have an external driveline that exits my abdomen.  Ideally, I opt for a full-body swimsuit to help protect my dressing and exit site. I have found swimsuits with openings on the side that allow my driveline, batteries, and controller to slide through for easy transport. With the swimsuit dilemma resolved, what’s next?  Here’s a list of essentials I use for relaxing on the porch or patio, taking a nature hike, a relaxing day on the beach, or walking at local trails:

  • Cell phone
  • Water/Bottled Water
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Umbrella
  • Fan (handheld, battery operated)
  • Towels
  • First-aid Kit
  • Cooler (ice packs, snacks i.e. light fruits)
  • Emergency Contact Numbers
  • Masks

That’s it — pretty simple! This list has been a lifesaver. Equipping myself with supplies from this list helps me to maintain a sense of normalcy during the summer. Most of the items are self-explanatory. Others such as an emergency contact list and cell phone can be vital for a heart failure patient.

Time limits and breaking barriers

Additionally, I set limits on the amount of time I spend outside, depending on the temperature and the amount of sun exposure. I equip myself with essentials and stay aware of my limits. I continue to listen to my body, by paying attention to symptoms and following my intuition.

Having heart failure can present two sets of limitations, actual and perceived. Learning to balance the two has allowed me to connect with others while enjoying what summer has to offer. I’m reminded of a beach connection last year that continues to motivate me to this day.

After settling in under our sunshade, I noticed the woman next to me not only had a portable oxygen tank but also a beach wheelchair! She smiled, we both spoke, and I jumped right in with questions (lol). I was definitely intrigued.  We shared stories about the health obstacles we each continue to push through; and enjoyed everything the beach had to offer that day.

That sun-filled day on the beach and the connection I made is a constant reminder of what is possible.  We broke barriers on what others might perceive as limitations, and embraced summer. In spite of heart failure, summertime is still an option.

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