Can SSRIs Make You More Prone to Heat Exhaustion?

Can SSRIs Make You More Prone to Heat Exhaustion?

With hot temperatures sweeping the country this summer, people who take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—often prescribed to treat depression—may want to be extra cautious.

On TikTok, creators are alerting their followers that these medications can put a person at an increased risk of heat stroke.

“Here is your yearly warning that SSRIs make you more prone to not doing well with heat,” said TikToker Audrey Jean Flowers in a video viewed over 760,000 times. “Just be careful about that.”

Flowers said the heat has caused her to vomit in the past, and she urged people to drink water and “be aware” of this risk.

Though not all medical advice on TikTok is sound, physicians agree that people who take antidepressant medications should play it safe when it comes to navigating soaring summertime temperatures.

“SSRIs can predispose persons to heat sensitivity and result in a higher chance of developing heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” Robert Glatter, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital, told Health.

Here’s what experts had to say about the connection between SSRIs and heat-related illness, which symptoms to look out for, and how to stay safe this summer.

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Because of how SSRIs function in the body, they may make it challenging for some people to handle hot temperatures.

For one, SSRIs can lead to excessive sweating—this can increase the risk of becoming dehydrated when spending time outdoors in the heat and high humidity, said Glatter. According to one study, about 10% of people who take an antidepressant may experience excessive sweating.

Additionally, research has also shown that SSRIs may impair the function of the hypothalamus, a certain area of the brain responsible for regulating internal body temperature. 

“The hypothalamus serves as a thermostat to adjust to heat or colder temperatures,” said Glatter.

And SSRIs aren’t the only medications that can make it harder for the body to properly regulate internal temperature, sweat, or otherwise deal with the heat.

Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants, and medications for anxiety (such as benzodiazepine) can also raise the risk of heat intolerance, Glatter said. The same is true for certain antihistamines, beta-blockers, diuretics, anti-platelet drugs, and more.

When it comes to SSRIs, in particular, people don’t necessarily need to panic about taking them in the summer months. This increased risk of heat stroke exists, but “these are typically safe medications,” Adam Blumenberg, MD, emergency medicine physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, told Health.

However, it is something people who take these drugs should be cognizant of.

“The take-home message is that medications which either impair your ability to sweat (and subsequently cool your body), or those medications which lead to excessive sweating will predispose you to dehydration,” Glatter added.

Since people taking SSRIs are more likely to develop heat exhaustion or stroke, it’s important that they know when their bodies are getting dangerously hot.

“Overheating can cause heat exhaustion, which can turn into a more dangerous heat stroke, which happens when your temperature reaches 104 degrees,” Jennifer Brull, MD, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told Health

People experiencing heat exhaustion may feel like they have an influenza-like illness, Blumenberg explained. Symptoms can include heavy sweating, dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps, clammy skin, a fast pulse, and headache.

“A person with heat exhaustion can feel fatigued, sick to their stomach, uncomfortable, sweaty, or simply just too hot,” said Blumenberg. “The best way to treat this is to get to a cooler environment, drink water, and wait until you feel better.”

This heat exhaustion can escalate further to heat stroke, which is much more dangerous.

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Very high body temperature
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Seizures 

“Heat stroke is extremely serious and can be fatal, causing organs to shut down,” said Brull. “It’s important to get out of the heat at the first signs of intolerance to avoid more serious consequences.”

If you take an SSRI or other medication that could affect how your body reacts to heat, do not change your dosage or stop taking the drug without first consulting your doctor, Brull advised.

“The most important thing is to be aware of heat risks and prepare for them,” she said. 

If the heat index (a value that combines heat and relative humidity) exceeds 90 degrees, it may be safest to stay indoors, Glatter said.

But if you plan to be out in the heat, take the following steps to protect yourself:

  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, and a brimmed hat
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher to avoid a sunburn
  • Stay in homes, businesses, or public spaces with air conditioning if possible
  • Limit outdoor activities to cooler times of day, such as morning and evening
  • Use the buddy system and check in on a friend or neighbor (and vice versa)
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, even if you’re not feeling particularly thirsty
  • Pace yourself and take frequent breaks if you are working or exercising outside

It’s crucial to listen to your body and take heat safety seriously, said Brull. If you or someone you are with is showing signs of heat exhaustion, get them out of the heat immediately and into a cool place. 

“They should lie down and put their legs up to help blood flow to the heart,” she said. “Putting cool towels on their skin or taking a cool bath can help regulate and lower their internal body temperature, as well as drinking water or a sports drink.”

Rapidly cooling the body to prevent the progression of symptoms is vital, added Glatter.

“If you begin to feel a rapid heartbeat, start sweating excessively, develop nausea, dizziness, or leg cramping, immediately seek air conditioning, and if necessary, have someone call 911,” he said.

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