Heat is my nemesis, but it hasn’t always been this way. Actually, I really enjoy summer! My problems with heat started when I had my adrenal glands removed and I became adrenal insufficient. I’ve come to realise that I’m not alone. Most, if not all adrenal insufficient patients struggle with heat intolerance. To further complicate things, we are highly susceptible to dehydration because of hormone deficiencies.
So what is an adrenal insufficient patient like me to do? Stay indoors all summer and let life pass me by? If you know me, you know that’s not my style! I’m too stubborn to give up!
This past week my kids had their first ever scout day camp. I was obligated to attend with them as a walking den leader. I was terrified. So much could go wrong! Me, with my less than dependable health, out in 90 degree weather, all day long? I often get dehydrated even when I’m not in the heat. I get fatigued from just running errands some days. How in the heck am I going to pull this off?
The night before I was panicking. What if I couldn’t handle it? If I had a medical emergency I’d be so embarrassed! If I got dehydrated and fatigued, I’d be letting the other den leaders down, and they wouldn’t understand what was really happening to me. I was crying and even typed out a text to back out of the whole thing– I didn’t hit send though!
The first day of camp I showed up prepared as possible. Shorts, hiking boots, baseball cap, sunscreen, bug spray, TONS of water and my electrolyte drink of choice, coconut water, a liter of it! As prepared as I thought I was, the first day was brutal. I was feeling wiped out from the heat by the time we got to our first activity. Splitting headache from dehydration, despite drinking every bit of that giant bottle of coconut water. I was fatigued and feeling “out of it” my muscles were getting sore, again probably from dehydration. I use a cortisol pump, so I did my typical bolus amount, took an extra dose of fludrocortisone, a salt tablet, and some Advil for the muscle pain and headache. It got a little bit better in about an hour, but I was struggling until dinner time. After the rest and food at dinner, I felt a lot better.
Day two I knew I needed a better strategy. This time I brought a camping chair to sit in so I could rest a little during the instruction times at each activity. I also bought a wagon to carry it and all of the things the campers ask you to carry along the way (I should also add that my right arm is broken at the moment which makes carrying things kind of tough). It was a smart move, but STILL I was dealing with that fatigue and dehydration headache by the first activity! It didn’t seem to matter how much water and coconut water I drank! Again, I bolused, took extra fludrocortisone, salt tablet and Advil. I bounced back just a little bit quicker this time. Day 3 went about the same. What was I doing wrong? Maybe the killer headache and overwhleming fatigue were just unavoidable in this heat?
Well good news, day 4– I figured it out! We arrived at camp just like the previous days, but this time I bolused right there in my car, before I ever stepped foot into the heat. I changed my bolus strategy too. I took my typical bolus amout and DOUBLED it. I utilized the “dual wave” bolus feature on my pump (OmniPod and Tandem call this extended bolus, and Animus calls it combo bolus.) On my medtronic 630g you have to turn on this feature in your settings. Dual wave allows me to split up my bolus. You set a percentage to deliver immediately, and a percentage to be slowly delivered over a time period you chose. I delivered 50% of the amount (which would be my typical bolus) immediately, and had the other 50% delivered over the next hour (which happened to be the heat of the day). I also went ahead and took that extra fludrocortisone, salt tablet and Advil ahead of time. I went the entire day, active, alert, and symptom free! Day 5 was also symptom free!
It turns out the key is being prepared BEFORE you ever step into the heat. Don’t wait until you’re already sweating, don’t wait until you’re feeling wiped out and crappy! It’s going to take you all day, or even days to catch up at that point!
In summary, here’s what I learned:
If you know you’ll be in the heat, bolus (or updose) ahead of time! If you’re only going to be in the heat an hour or less and not physically active, a normal bolus (plus adequate hydration of course) is probably all you need. The important thing is that you do it BEFORE!
If you’re going to be in the heat for several hours, or plan on being physically active (such as yard work or a sport) you will need more steroid than you think. For me, I needed double my typical bolus amount. Splitting it using the dual wave feature was a huge help. I also needed to increase my basal rate signifcantly. I may not have needed to do this if I could have managed the first 3 days better, but by day 3, I was on my “sick” basal profile, and I stayed on that profile for the rest of camp.
HYDRATE! Don’t wait until you’re in the heat to hydrate, don’t wait until you’re thirsty, and don’t think that just water is going to do the job. You need electrolytes and you need to start drinking them HOURS before you go outside. You really can’t start the intense hydrating too early! As I said, my electrolyte drink of choice is coconut water, do what works for you.
Shade is precious! The sun is BRUTAL! Stay in the shade as much as possible. If you get an oppotinty to sit and rest, don’t be too proud to take it! Try to find ways to exert less energy, maybe that means sitting, using a cart or wagon to carry heavy things, or humbling yourself and asking for help (which I did have to do at one point).
Sun protection/bug spray! I hate sunblock. It feels greasy and gross. Bug spray is stinky, yuck! Here’s the thing though– you don’t want to add any additional stressors to your body by getting sunburned or insect bites. On that note– dress appropriately! Dressing for the outdoors is not very stylish, but ou want to dress in a way that you stay cool, and protect yourself from sun, biting insects or itching plants.
It figures that my experience from scout camp basically amounts to “Be Prepared” which also happens to be the boy scout motto!
Stay safe and cool this summer!
6 thoughts on “Surviving the Heat with Adrenal Insufficiency”
Thanks for sharing your experimentation in dealing with the heat Michelle. Very helpful insights and strategies. I love coconut water too. I need to bolus proactively more often. I’m curious to know how much your standard bolus amount is (perhaps as a percentage of your usual daily total might be useful?).
I didn’t mention the actual amount of my typical bolus because I’m a rapid metabolizer. This means any steroids I take peak very high and quickly. This is why I had to go on the pump on the first place, the high peaks and rapid drop offs made pills unbearable.
So for boluses I do very small amounts. 1mg is actually my standard bolus. In fact, I only bolused 1mg when I broke my arm, then switched to my “sick” basal profile (which is 84mg/24hrs). I didn’t mention the milligrams in the post because nearly everyone will need more than 1 or 2mgs, and such a small bolus would not be a good idea for anyone on oral steroids.
Thanks. This certainly will help with my mission trips in Africa. I’ve been struggling with the steroid balance and didn’t really think about the “sun” factor.
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If you had to play trombone for an hour in 90+ degree temps, would you suggest some sort of updose?
I thought maybe you were setting up a joke at first lol
Seriously though, in my own experience anything over 90 degrees I am going to need an updose. I’d probably use the same strategy in this post, and do an extended bolus plus extra electrolytes.