Hannuksela and Ellahham (2001) Benefits and risks of sauna bathing

Contributed By: Hannuksela, M. L. & Ellahham, S.

Principal Investigators

Hannuksela, M. L. & Ellahham, S.

Publishing Date



Hannuksela, M. L., & Ellahham, S. (2001). Benefits and Risks of Sauna Bathing. The American Journal of Medicine, 110(2), 118–126.


The article provides a thorough examination of sauna bathing’s effects on a wide range of health topics, including: sudden death, coronary heart disease, the risks of alcohol consumption during sauna sessions, implications for those with hypertension, effects on chronic heart failure patients, cardiovascular contraindications for sauna use, potential drug interactions during sauna sessions, the sauna’s impact on lung function, benefits and drawbacks for those with rheumatic diseases, effects on the skin, hormonal changes triggered by sauna use, the relationship between sauna use and fertility, considerations for pregnant women, and the safety and implications of sauna use for children.

Key Insights

Although sauna bathing causes various acute, transient cardiovascular and hormonal changes, it is well tolerated by most healthy adults and children. Sauna bathing does not influence fertility and is safe during the uncomplicated pregnancies of healthy women. Some studies have suggested that long-term sauna bathing may help lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension and improve the left ventricular ejection fraction in patients with chronic congestive heart failure, but additional data are needed to confirm these findings. The transient improvements in pulmonary function that occur in the sauna may provide some relief to patients with asthma and chronic bronchitis. Sauna bathing may also alleviate pain and improve joint mobility in patients with rheumatic disease. Although sauna bathing does not cause drying of the skin—and may even benefit patients with psoriasis—sweating may increase itching in patients with atopic dermatitis. Contraindications to sauna bathing include unstable angina pectoris, recent myocardial infarction, and severe aortic stenosis. Sauna bathing is safe, however, for most people with coronary heart disease with stable angina pectoris or old myocardial infarction. Very few acute myocardial infarctions and sudden deaths occur in saunas, but alcohol consumption during sauna bathing increases the risk of hypotension, arrhythmia, and sudden death, and should be avoided.


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