LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — With dangerous heat hitting central Arkansas this week, the American Heart Association is urging people to take steps to protect their hearts.

While many are concerned about the threat of triple-digit heat, even temperatures in the 80s can be dangerous when combined with a high humidity. A dangerous heat index can be hard on the heart, with the AHA saying it may even lead to more severe strokes in some individuals.

The AHA encourages people who are heart patients, older than 50 or overweight to take special precautions in the heat to protect their hearts.

Even for those not taking medications for a heart condition, it is important to take precautions in the heat. While infants and the elderly are more vulnerable to problems from heat, extreme temperatures can cause health issues for anyone.

The American Heart Association suggests that everyone follows these top 5 hot weather precautions:

  1. Watch the clock: It’s best to avoid the outdoors in the early afternoon (about noon to 3 p.m.) because the sun is usually at its strongest, putting you at higher risk for heat-related illnesses.
  2. Dress for the heat: Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing in breathable fabrics such as cotton, or a newer fabric that repels sweat. Add a hat and sunglasses. Before you get started, apply a water-resistant sunscreen with at least SPF 15, and reapply it every two hours.
  3. Drink up: Stay hydrated by drinking a few cups of water before, during and after going outside or exercising. Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.
  4. Take regular breaks: Find some shade or a cool place, stop for a few minutes, hydrate and start again
  5. Follow the doctor’s orders: Continue to take all medications as prescribed.

The AHA also advises that it is important for people to know the signs and symptoms when they may be experiencing too much heat.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion:

  • headaches
  • heavy sweating
  • cold, moist skin, chills
  • dizziness or fainting (syncope)
  • a weak and rapid pulse
  • muscle cramps
  • fast, shallow breathing
  • nausea, vomiting or both

If someone is experiencing these symptoms, the AHA advises that they move to a cooler place, stop exercising and cool down immediately by dousing themselves with cold water and re-hydrating. They may even need to seek medical attention.

Symptoms of heat stroke:

  • warm, dry skin with no sweating
  • strong and rapid pulse
  • confusion and/or unconsciousness
  • high fever
  • throbbing headaches
  • nausea, vomiting or both

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention right away.