Using a sauna has been a relaxation practice for centuries, benefiting both the body and mind. Sauna traditions, which started in Scandinavian countries, have become popular worldwide, including in Poland. While numerous studies point to the positive aspects of sauna use, such as improved blood circulation and skin detoxification, there are also many contraindications that everyone should know before deciding to engage in this form of relaxation.
Although this article is not medical advice, we will look at contraindications to sauna use that have been confirmed by scientific studies. If you suffer from any disease, be sure to consult your family doctor.
- Heart and circulatory system
- Skin diseases
- Thermoregulation disorders
- Respiratory system diseases
- Nervous system diseases
- Acute inflammatory conditions and infections
- Thyroid disorders
- Severe sunburns or skin damage
- Acute kidney and liver diseases
- Severe electrolyte imbalances
- Tendencies for hemorrhaging
- General conclusions
During pregnancy, a woman’s body undergoes a series of physiological changes that affect thermoregulation, the circulatory system, and other key functions. The high temperature and humidity typical of a sauna can lead to overheating, which is potentially dangerous for both the mother and the developing fetus. Especially in the first trimester of pregnancy, when the risk of complications is higher, sauna use can increase the risk of congenital defects or even miscarriage. If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy and are considering the benefits and risks associated with sauna use, we recommend reading our detailed article on sauna use during pregnancy.
Heart and circulatory system
The sauna affects the circulatory system, causing a temporary increase in heart rate and a decrease in blood pressure. For most people, this is safe, but for those with existing heart or circulatory problems, such changes may pose a risk. People suffering from hypertension, heart disease, or those who have recently had a heart attack may be at risk of complications, such as arrhythmias or even another heart attack while using the sauna. Therefore, if you have problems with your heart or circulatory system, it is advisable to consult a doctor before using a sauna to ensure the highest level of safety.
A dry sauna with its high temperature and humidity can pose a challenge for people suffering from various skin diseases. Heat and steam can exacerbate eczema symptoms, causing increased dryness, itching, and skin irritation. In the case of psoriasis, although some people report temporary improvement, for others, the sauna may lead to a worsening of symptoms. Fungi can also be more active in warm, humid environments, making saunas conducive to their reproduction. If you suffer from any of these conditions, always consult a dermatologist before deciding to use a sauna.
Interested in sauna side effects? Read our article – Side effects of using a sauna
Thermoregulation is the ability of the body to maintain a constant internal temperature regardless of external conditions. People with thermoregulation disorders may have difficulty adapting to extreme temperatures, such as those in the sauna. In extreme cases, if thermoregulatory mechanisms do not work correctly, exposure to high temperatures in the sauna can lead to hyperthermia – dangerously high body temperature. Hyperthermia can lead to many serious complications, such as brain damage, organ failure, or even death. Therefore, people with diagnosed thermoregulation disorders should avoid using a sauna or do so under strict medical supervision.
Respiratory system diseases
Saunas, due to high temperature and humidity, can affect people with respiratory diseases in different ways. For some people with asthma, hot and humid air can act as a trigger, leading to bronchoconstriction and breathing difficulties. Similarly, people with chronic lung diseases may experience increased discomfort and shortness of breath in such an environment. On the other hand, some asthma patients claim that the heat and humidity of the sauna help them relax the bronchi and breathe easier. Nevertheless, it is recommended that people with respiratory diseases consult a pulmonologist before using a sauna to accurately assess individual risks and benefits.
Nervous system diseases
In people with nervous system diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or neuropathies, using a sauna can lead to exacerbation of symptoms or instability in nervous system functioning. For example, the elevated temperature in the sauna can affect nerve conduction, which in turn can lead to increased weakness, fatigue, or other neurological symptoms. In the case of Parkinson’s disease, extreme temperatures can intensify tremors and muscle stiffness. Therefore, people with diagnosed nervous system diseases should be very cautious and consult a neurologist before deciding to use a sauna.
Acute inflammatory conditions and infections
Using a sauna during acute inflammatory conditions or infections, such as the flu, tonsillitis, or acute urinary tract infections, can pose a serious health risk. The elevated temperature in the sauna can increase the burden on the body, which is already weakened by the disease, leading to exacerbation of symptoms and prolonging recovery time. Additionally, there is a risk of overheating the body, which in combination with the fever characteristic of many infections can lead to life-threatening conditions, such as hyperthermia. For this reason, using a sauna is strongly discouraged for people during acute inflammatory conditions or infections. Instead, it is important to focus on rest and proper therapy.
People suffering from cancers must approach saunas with great caution. High temperatures can affect the body in a way that is not always predictable in combination with cancer or oncological treatment. For patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy, the sauna may intensify certain side effects of treatment, such as nausea, weakness, or pains. The high temperature in the sauna can also affect blood circulation, which may be unfavorable for people with certain types of cancers. Additionally, there is a risk of overloading the immune system, which is often weakened as a result of the disease and treatment. Therefore, people with diagnosed cancers should consult an oncologist before using a sauna and always approach it with great caution.
Individuals with thyroid disorders, such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, should be cautious when encountering the extreme temperatures in a sauna. In the case of hyperthyroidism, high temperature may exacerbate some of the symptoms, such as palpitations, excessive sweating, or trembling hands. For people with hypothyroidism, who may suffer from thermoregulation disorders, a sauna can lead to excessive strain on the body and feelings of weakness.
The sauna can also affect the levels of thyroid hormones in the body, and consequently, the effectiveness of medications used in the treatment of thyroid diseases. Therefore, people with thyroid diseases are advised to consult with an endocrinologist before using a sauna.
Severe sunburns or skin damage
Severe sunburns or other skin damage, such as abrasions or wounds, can constitute a serious contraindication for using a sauna. Exposing irritated or damaged skin to extreme sauna temperatures can intensify pain, burning, and further deteriorate the skin’s condition. Additionally, high temperature and humidity in the sauna can increase the risk of infection in damaged areas.
Moreover, for skin that has been recently tanned or burned, extreme temperatures can inhibit the healing process, intensify redness, and lead to blisters or epidermis cracking. Therefore, people with severe sunburns or other skin damage should avoid saunas until the skin fully heals.
Acute kidney and liver diseases
People suffering from acute kidney or liver diseases should exercise great caution with regard to using a sauna. High temperature and heat conduction may pose an additional burden for these organs, which are already stressed by the disease.
In the case of kidneys, intense sweating in the sauna can lead to dehydration, which increases the strain on the kidneys and may exacerbate symptoms of renal failure. Furthermore, dehydration can impact the body’s electrolyte balance, which is critical for individuals with kidney diseases.
As for the liver, its ability to process and eliminate toxins can be impaired in the presence of acute disease. Using a sauna can further strain the liver by increasing toxin release due to intense sweating.
In both cases, individuals with acute kidney or liver diseases should consult with a specialist doctor (nephrologist or hepatologist) before deciding to use a sauna.
Severe electrolyte imbalances
Severe electrolyte imbalances, such as hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels) or hyperkalemia (high blood potassium levels), can constitute a serious contraindication for using a sauna. Saunas lead to intense sweating, which can result in further loss of electrolytes from the body. Consequently, there is a risk of exacerbating already existing electrolyte imbalances.
In situations where the body loses too much sodium through sweat, this can increase the risk of hyponatremia. In the case of hyperkalemia, high temperatures may exacerbate symptoms, such as irregular heartbeat or muscle weakness.
For individuals diagnosed with electrolyte imbalances, using a sauna without consulting a doctor can be dangerous. In such cases, regular monitoring of electrolyte levels, as well as adjusting hydration and diet in response to sauna use, is vital.
Tendencies for hemorrhaging
People with tendencies for hemorrhaging, whether due to blood clotting disorders, the use of anticoagulant medications, or other reasons, should be particularly cautious when using a sauna. High temperatures can lead to the dilation of blood vessels, potentially intensifying the risk of bleeding, especially under the skin or in other tissues.
Additionally, the intense sweating that occurs while using a sauna can lead to dehydration. Dehydration, in combination with bleeding tendencies, may increase the risk of hemorrhagic complications.
If a patient is taking anticoagulant medications, such as warfarin or newer anticoagulants, the risk of bleeding while using a sauna may be increased. Consulting with a hematologist or another specialist is recommended before deciding to use a sauna.
Using a sauna is not only a pleasure but also a responsibility for one’s own health. Taking care of one’s health and considering all contraindications will allow one to enjoy relaxation in the sauna without exposing oneself to unnecessary risk.
Importance of considering health contraindications. Taking contraindications into account is key to ensuring safety while using a sauna. Even if we feel well and experience no symptoms, existing conditions may suddenly intensify under the influence of high temperature and humidity in the sauna.
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