Psychiatric Medication and Heat Illness

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There are many medications that affect the way your body cools itself during extremely high temperatures that could put you at risk for developing heat-related illnesses. Beta-blockers and amphetamines are examples. Many of these medications are ones taken by psychiatric patients, yet rarely do we hear warnings on the news to check on this population along with the elderly and children during extreme heat like I think we should.

I am on propranolol (beta-blocker), Adderall (amphetamine), Cymbalta (antidepressant), Risperdal (antipsychotic), Ativan (antianxiety), and Topamax (anticonvulsant), all of which increase my sensitivity to heat.

So, when we were boating last weekend in the 95F degree weather and stopped for lunch to which the group “leader” thought it would be a great idea to sit outside and eat, I said, “Are you crazy?!”

I didn’t really say that, but I did ask if everyone would rather eat indoors, to which the leader responded, “No way!” and everyone else followed suit by sheepishly smiling. So, I got up, recruited my husband to walk with me into the restaurant and we sat in the air-conditioning until our food was served. By this time, I was cooled off and probably saved myself from the beginnings of some heat exhaustion.

Even though my friends know I am on psych meds, they don’t get the seriousness of the side effects. It’s up to me to be assertive enough to take care of myself, and that’s what I did.

The next morning we went on a hike, and while the morning temperatures were cooler, the steep hills got my heart pumping and pores sweating. We took a 15-minute rest break on a bench by the lake.

After our rest break, I noticed my friends’ faces were no longer perspiring or flushed. I, on the other hand, felt like I was running a fever and was feeling light-headed and nauseous. I decided it would be best to call my husband to come pick me up rather than continue on the rest of the hike with them, so that is what I did.

It bums me out that I can’t keep up with my friends in the heat, but without my medications I wouldn’t be able to do anything with them regardless of the weather.

Here’s a brochure by the Ohio Dept. of MH which includes a list of some of the medications that can impair the heat response, as well as what to look for and do in the case of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

RxList is a comprehensive drug index that provides in-depth information on probably every drug you are on. Search the medications you are currently taking to see if they make you sensitive to the sun or heat, or ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Heat illness is very serious. Make sure you know if your medication is putting you at risk. Let’s keep summer safe!

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