Are Saunas Recommended for Hepatitis C?
Traditionally found in spas and workout facilities, most people assume saunas are good for you. While taking a sauna can help rid unwanted toxins from your body, there are many situations where saunas are not safe. Since those with chronic Hepatitis C are continually seeking ways to help their liver eliminate toxins, regular sauna therapy may be considered. However, anyone with liver disease should carefully review sauna’s cautions and discuss their plans with their physician before hopping inside.
A sauna is a small room or house designed for visitors to experience dry or wet heat sessions. Used primarily to induce relaxation and promote sweating, a sauna’s heat typically varies between 170 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit. There are two basic sauna styles: conventional saunas that warm the air or infrared saunas that warm objects.
Physically, a short sauna visit will cause the average person to release a pint of perspiration and experience a pulse rate jump by 30 percent or more – allowing the heart to nearly double the amount of blood it pumps each minute. Considered to be a healthful practice, sauna heat is used around the world by individuals, doctors and other health professionals. Advocates of saunas claim they demonstrate the following health benefits:
- Dispels Toxins – sauna heat releases toxins from the body through excessive perspiration.
- Improves Skin Clarity – sauna heat encourages dead skin cells to loosen and closed pores to open up and expel impurities.
- Eases Muscular Tension – sauna heat enhances blood flow which relaxes sore, tense and tired muscles.
- Stimulates Immunity – sauna heat signals an increase in white blood cell production which heightens the body’s ability to defend against pathogens.
In addition, saunas are known to help relieve stress, tension headaches, backaches, colds, sinus congestion, arthritis, rheumatism, minor respiratory ailments and sleeping difficulties.
Despite this compelling list of health benefits, a tragedy reminds us of the hazards inherent to extreme heat. In August 2010, a Russian contestant died from the heat in the Sauna World Championships in Heinola, Finland. The Sauna World Championships measure how long people can stay in a sauna where temperatures can exceed 230 degrees Fahrenheit. Held in Heinola annually since 1999, about 130 contestants from over 20 countries participate in this Finnish competition. A direct consequence of this fatality, the organizers said they do not expect any future championships to be held.
The conditions that caused the Russian contestant’s death were extreme – going far beyond the temperatures used in sauna therapy. Even so, the use of saunas should be approached cautiously by people with Hepatitis C or any other chronic ailment. Dr. Harvey Simon, editor-in-chief of Harvard Men’s Health Watch suggests the following precautions for sauna users:
- Avoid alcohol and medications that may impair sweating and produce overheating before and after your sauna.
- Stay in no more than 15-20 minutes.
- Cool down gradually afterward.
- Drink two to four glasses of cool water after each sauna.
- Don’t take a sauna when you are ill, and if you feel unwell during your sauna, head for the door.
In addition, the following represent a few reasons to consult a physician before taking a sauna:
- Pregnant women should refrain from any type of sauna use, because fetal damage can occur with elevated body temperature.
- Because heat increases cardiac output and blood flow, those with cardiovascular conditions like hypertension, hypotension or congestive heart failure should receive a physician’s permission to sauna. Hypertension is a common complication of advanced Hepatitis C infection.
- Many medications contraindicate the use of saunas. Diuretics, barbiturates and beta-blockers may impair the body’s natural heat loss mechanisms. Some over-the-counter drugs, such as antihistamines, may also cause the body to be more prone to heat stroke. Sauna heat is likely to aggravate skin rashes caused by Hepatitis C antiviral therapy.
Considering all of the health benefits of taking a sauna, it seems to be a worthwhile endeavor for those in good health. Having chronic Hepatitis C is not an automatic contraindication to using a sauna. However, there are enough reasons for someone with liver disease to seek a physician’s permission first. Most of us are not likely to encounter temperatures near that used in the Championships in Heinola. Nonetheless, saunas put a fair amount of stress on the cardiovascular system – enough to warrant a cautious approach for anyone managing chronic Hepatitis C.
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