With Parkinson’s, a Suntan Just Isn’t Worth It

Dr. C avatar

by Dr. C |

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Betty slapped George hard. There was no response, so she dialed 911.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) had forced George into early retirement. He loved basking in the sun, diving into a good book, and working on his tan on their deck. Betty was in the kitchen when she saw him slumped over in the chair.

This wasn’t the first time George had responded so severely to the summer heat. He had reacted similarly to the heat two other times. His heart rate was slow, almost imperceptible. His face was ashen. Betty cradled George’s face in her hands as she waited for the ambulance, and with tears streaming down her face, commanded, “Don’t you die on me.” To herself, she said, “The suntan isn’t worth it.”

Similar stories are reported by many PD patients and their families.

Like George, the heat hits me hard. A small increase in air temperature above 75 degrees can leave me prone for hours, if not the entire day. Relief isn’t found by staying still or avoiding activities. I can have a difficult time in the shade or even in the house if the temperature rises.

I follow the recommendations to avoid heatstroke: I hydrate with water; complete any outside activities in the earlier, cooler parts of the day; and wear light, loose clothing. Our house is cooled by central air.

Despite all of these precautions, I can sense the losing battle with the heat as it rises. A comfortable summer day for others becomes a debilitating challenge for me due to heat attacks. This reaction to heat is an attack on my ability to function, a magnified response, such as my descriptions of fatigue and pain.

Researchers claim that heat intolerance is different than heat illnesses like heatstroke. Heat intolerance is usually a side effect of medications or a symptom of endocrine disorders or other medical conditions, rather than the result of too much exercise or hot, humid weather.

Up to 64 percent of PD patients report thermodysregulation, which includes symptoms of heat and cold intolerance as well as excessive sweating. PD patients have problems with their autonomic nervous system, which controls sweating. While perspiration helps regulate the body’s temperature, too much or too little perspiration can result in overheating.

Last month was the warmest July ever. It also included the worst bout of heat attacks ever recorded. It’s time for a tweak in the wellness map.

I’m trying to shift from thinking that I can work in some heat to understanding that it’s not worth the suntan. It’s not something to ignore or push through, distracting the mind from the physical issues, like hiding one’s head in the sand. It must be met straight on with reason and sensible action. Most of us are not yogi masters who can change body temperatures at will. We must use what we know and take steps to prevent serious harm from happening.

This is me telling myself not to take this risk lightly. I tend to push myself too hard.

The symptoms of heat intolerance can vary from person to person, but may include:

  • feeling very hot in moderately warm temperatures
  • excessive sweating
  • not sweating enough in the heat
  • exhaustion and fatigue during warm weather
  • nausea, vomiting, or dizziness in response to heat
  • changes in mood when too hot

If you experience any of these symptoms, time to get out of the heat! It’s just not worth the suntan.


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, Bionews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Zachari I Partridge avatar

Zachari I Partridge

Parky in eastern washington state. Ive got a flairosol spray bottle with distilled water. Maybe it can work to cool me down; it's dry here.

Debby everard avatar

Debby everard

I do suffer with the heat especially humidity, I find can't catch breath very simple task leaves me without air. It is very scary not breathing.

kathleen provorse avatar

kathleen provorse

My husband suffers with the high humidity days and heat as well. Although he hydrates and stays inside, he still seems like his energy level is very much less. He suffers from parkinsons and I didnt realize that this seems to be an issue with others as well.
any advise?
thank you

Michael Coelho avatar

Michael Coelho

I am 54 with PD and live in the UK, I grew up in the south of Portugal where temperatures often reach 40c plus although I was young and was quite happy in the sun. Now its a different story as anything above 25c especially when humidity is high makes me sweat lots and feel realy tired and have to to stay in the shade.

I am also taking part in a drug trial (Exenatide) in London at UCL. Today I and went for my 3 monthly review and totally forgot to take my Sinemet with me and as a result of being 3 hours late with my meds I felt really hot and sweaty. I honestly think that I feel like this when it is hot and also if I am late in taking the meds as I think potentialy its my body reacting to the missing extra dopamine.

Trial details:



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