Friends” star Matthew Perry was found dead in his hot tub this weekend, presumably having undergone cardiac arrest.
The fatal event raises questions about hot tub risks and heart health.
“Friends” star Matthew Perry was reported dead this Saturday after his body was found in a hot tub at his Los Angeles home. News outlets initially called the event a “possible drowning” and said that Perry suffered cardiac arrest but that his cause of death is unknown. The Los Angeles medical examiner’s office updated its online record on Sunday to reflect that Perry’s cause of death was “deferred.” Perry’s cause of death remains under investigation.
Without more details on the situation, the tragic event brings up questions about hot tub safety, as well as hot water’s impact on heart health.
Do jacuzzis pose heart health risks?
Submerging oneself in a hot tub or jacuzzi can cause the body to overheat and look for ways to cool itself down. According to Cheng-Han Chen, MD, board-certified Interventional Cardiologist and Medical Director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, CA, this isn’t as easy a process as cooling the body down in a dry environment.
“Normally, when your body temperature gets too high, you will start sweating and release heat that way,” Dr. Chen says. “In a hot tub, you're not able to sweat and cool down.”
Instead, the body utilizes another cooling mechanism: dilating of the blood vessels. Dilated blood vessels correlate with a drop in blood pressure, which, like being too hot, is an extreme state that the body seeks to balance, Dr. Chen explains. The body regulates this overheating by raising the heart rate and pulse. Because these mechanisms increase the workload on the heart, they could pose risks for someone with a heart condition.
“It is slightly more risky for someone with an underlying heart condition to subject themselves to prolonged periods in a hot tub environment,” Dr. Chen says. He adds that for someone with otherwise sound heart health, hot tubs—and the bodily response they activate—tends not to be concerning. Jet settings and bubbles are unlikely to impact risk, either, he says.
Other safety considerations for hot tubs
People without underlying heart conditions may not have to worry about hot tubs harming their cardiovascular health, but there are other things to keep in mind for staying healthy and safe.
Hot water’s impact on blood pressure can induce dizziness. As such, it’s important to be aware of the risks of falling when getting out of a tub, Dr. Chen says.
“What I warn people is about getting out of the tub too quickly,” he adds. “When your blood pressure is low and you try to stand up quickly, what happens is that you get very lightheaded and dizzy, and you could potentially even pass out.”
The latter is particularly concerning in this environment because of drowning risks, he says.
Additionally, dehydration—a universal risk in hot tubs—can result from overheating. Drinking water, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and not lingering in the hot tub for too long or at too high a temperature can help reduce risks.
“Even if you’re young and healthy, try not to get dehydrated,” Dr. Chen says. “Make sure you drink enough water.”
What this means for you
For people with heart disease, submerging the body in a hot tub or jacuzzi increases the risks of overtaxing the heart. People without heart conditions should be mindful of how long they stay in hot tubs and should drink water to avoid becoming dehydrated or overheating.