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Sitting in the dry heat of a sauna might make you feel relaxed, or it might just make you feel sweaty. The heat has physiological effects on your body, including rapidly raising your skin temperature and increasing your pulse rate by as much as 30 percent, according to Harvard Health Publications. Sitting in a sauna is generally safe for most people as long as you stay in for no more than 15 to 20 minutes and stay hydrated. Talk to your doctor before using a sauna if you have heart problems, since it could exacerbate cardiac issues.
The heat of the sauna diverts blood from the vital organs and blood vessels to the skin in an effort to cool off the body's rising temperature. Major organs receive less blood supply while you're in the sauna. If you have unstable heart disease, shunting blood away from the heart could cause irregular heartbeat, chest pain or sudden death from cardiovascular disease. Saunas lower blood pressure temporarily for some people, which could benefit you if you have high blood pressure. On the other hand, some people experience a rise in blood pressure in the sauna. If you start to feel unwell in any way while in the sauna, get out immediately.
The dry heat of the sauna might reduce muscle and joint pain and improve function if you have arthritis. A Dutch study published in the January 2009 issue of "Clinical Rheumatology" looked at the effects of infrared sauna on two chronic musculoskeletal diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Participants reported improvement in pain, stiffness and fatigue during the sauna session. Although participants also reported improvement in pain, stiffness and fatigue after the sessions, the improvement wasn't clinically significant. Sitting in a sauna might help relieve discomfort in the short term.
If you have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, you might breathe easier, at least temporarily, in the sauna. A small Dutch study published in the December 1989 issue of the "Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation" found that saunas caused a transient improvement in lung function in 12 males with obstructive pulmonary disease. Ask your doctor before spending time in the sauna if you have a chronic lung disorder.
Do not drink alcohol before going in the sauna or while in the sauna. Alcohol has many of the same effects as the sauna, including vasodilation. Both can cause a drop in blood pressure that could cause weakness or fainting. Both alcohol and the sauna can cause dehydration, which can also contribute to weakness, fainting or low blood pressure. Drink two to four glasses of water after a sauna to rehydrate yourself.